Chamber director hopes to champion local businesses through meaningful partnerships

By Daniel Warn / dan@chronline.com

Cynthia Mudge wants to be an accessible champion for Twin Cities businesses as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, using her skills in building partnerships to increase economic prosperity in her new capacity as executive director of the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce.

March 21 was Mudge’s first day in the role, a role she took on following the recent resignation of director Alicia Fox, who held the position for 10 years.

Growing up in Seattle, Mudge moved to the area a few years ago to help his father live out the rest of his life on the sheep farm his family owns.

Helping him with the long and difficult tasks that hospice care requires, Mudge has gone through a difficult time during the pandemic.

Resuming her career after the personal struggles she’s endured is a refreshing change of pace that gives her hope, she told The Chronicle.

“This job offer came at just the right time,” Mudge said. “I was like, ‘I’ve become a human being again, I’m leaving.’ So that part was exciting. … My parents loved living here, especially my dad. If he was alive, he would be so happy for me to do this job. That part got me excited. I’m learning, really, why they loved so much this community.

Still, Mudge said she knows the pandemic years have been difficult for everyone, noting that the business world has been hit particularly hard.

“Really, for the past couple of years, everyone – their lives have been turned upside down,” Mudge said. “There have been a lot of changes. … Every business has had to deal with not just one change, but for a while it felt like every few days there were new things that we had to adapt to.

She said 2020 was really tough in that way and said businesses are only now seeing the fruits of the resilience the pandemic has inadvertently sharpened in them.

“I think everyone comes out exhausted and a bit exhausted,” she said. “But I also think everyone – especially businesses – is coming out of this with new skills, new survival skills, that have forced them to be more creative in how they run their business. It forced everyone to learn to work outside the box because that’s gone. I mean, there’s no box, so now what do we do? »

Mudge said she will strive to be accessible and a point of contact to provide businesses with the resources they need to succeed.

Mudge will facilitate an overhaul of the chamber’s website, which will include a new business directory and eventually provide information on education opportunities in the community as well as a portal for people to post their resumes to find work.

“One thing I do is reach out,” she said. “We’re going to survey members and find out what they need the most.”

She added that an apparent crisis currently facing the Twin Cities business community is the lack of job applicants to fill vacancies.

“Almost every company I know is struggling to find staff,” Mudge said. “The chamber has started to do this with a few job fairs. We’ll potentially do another one in June.

She noted that there might also be another job fair in the fall.

Mudge said it’s been a wonderful job so far, thanks to a great board, and her main focus over the past two weeks has been building relationships between herself and the people she serves.

These relationships, she said, create partnerships that can be invaluable for economic development.

She honed her skills in building meaningful partnerships through two positions she held for 17 years.

She was executive director of the Astoria Sunday Market in Oregon for 13 years and coordinated the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial of Astoria attendance in previous years.

The Sunday market had about 200 vendors, spread over three blocks and two parking lots right in the heart of Astoria. Under her leadership, the market has become an important economic driver for Astoria, she said.

The Bicentennial Project had about 12 different facilities in Oregon and Washington as the region celebrated the founding of the Oregon Territory.

“It was an economic boon and helped grow and commercialize this area,” Mudge said of Astoria’s Bicentennial facility. “When I moved there, people were like, ‘Why are you moving to Astoria?’ It had a reputation for being mostly a town of bars, and it was more of an industrial town – lumber, fishing – and it was just starting to turn in. It was where you drove to go somewhere else.

“The Lewis and Clark Bicentenary really changed a lot of things and brought a lot of attention to the area, which is what we wanted,” she said, later adding, “I’m really proud of what we we did with that.”

The market and the bicentenary taught her how to find innovative sources of income through grant writing and fundraising efforts, she said. But perhaps more important are the relationships she built while she marketed the events.

“These two events really required the development of strong partnerships with many communities and entities – with people who really wanted to participate, but who were not officially part of our program. I really thank these two projects for giving me the ability and the opportunity to develop these (partnership) skills,” Mudge said. “That’s probably what I’m going to bring a lot to the chamber, it’s just reaching out to other entities. There are a lot of organizations that are doing great work. We have to work well with our cities, the county ( and) the state We must be partners.

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