Kara Stoller: Reflecting on a Chamber career

Kara Stoller
From the Chamber

In December 2007, I arrived in Steamboat Springs to join the Steamboat Springs Chamber team as the special events director. Never in a million years could I have imagined I would follow my brother out west. Yet off I was from Philadelphia to live in a small ski town in Colorado. Now, 15 years later, it’s time for me to say a bittersweet goodbye to the organization and so many of the people that helped me grow from that new resident to a passionate, dedicated community member.

Not long after I arrived, the Great Recession hit. The Chamber team dug deep to support the business community. I was tasked with creating two new events in less than six months to encourage visitation and spending in our community. The Steamboat All Arts Festival and Steamboat OktoberWest started in 2009. Working side by side with our small staff around the clock was the first major sign of commitment that I experienced of this incredible team stepping up to do whatever we can for the betterment of the community.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber has been in existence for over a century. How we support our community depends on the current needs, and in recent years I have been fortunate to work on several projects that have brought vitality to the Yampa Valley.

Major accomplishments that I am proud of include creating Thrive Together-Women’s Leadership Summit as well as our DEI Summit. Enabling growth and inclusion opportunities for residents has brought me so much joy. I am incredibly proud of the Chamber’s Young Professionals Network and Leadership Steamboat program. The participants of both make such a positive impact on our community.

The Chamber has adapted tremendously over the years, including our special events and marketing work. Listening to the membership and community, we stepped back from event production being a core function of the organization. Non-ski season marketing has evolved into destination management communications and promotion. We’re working to ensure the benefits of tourism outweigh the negative impacts. We partner with the Colorado Tourism Office and Leave No Trace to highlight sustainable tourism practices and launched new visit responsibly campaigns.

Our economic development work has played a vital role in business support throughout the Yampa Valley. In 2022, leaning on the strength built within the Chamber and support moving forward, the Routt County Economic Development Partnership was created as a separate 501.c.3, enabling the economic development work to further grow.

It is normal for our organization to step up in the good times, but critical in the challenging times. It is in these challenging times that the role of the Steamboat Springs Chamber is clarified for many. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chamber team advocated for the business community. We worked with elected officials and public health to create strategies and resources for employers and employees to navigate the pandemic. The Chamber team facilitated the application and allocation process of nearly $800,000 in CARES financial assistance to 141 local businesses. Taking stock of all the work done on behalf of our businesses, and community as a whole in 2020, is rewarding.

One project that jumps out in my mind as I reflect is the USA Pro Challenge. I was honored to have played a key role in the execution of the event working with a large committee and hundreds of volunteers to bring the event to life. Standing next to the finish line stage during the 2015 event with thousands of residents lining Lincoln Avenue, my husband and daughter, 5-months-old at the time, next to me, I felt immense pride (and exhaustion) in the work put in as well as happiness seeing the joy and fun had by so many.

Looking ahead, the Chamber’s goals to support the business community remain steadfast.

Advocating for policy that supports business growth, securing long-term community commitments to destination stewardship, creating new and improved resources focused on talent retention and attraction, and improving the quality of life for residents and protecting shared resources by executing destination management communications are the key focus areas.

The above noted scope is quite the undertaking for a team of seven, however the team is unbelievably driven and committed to the betterment of our community as well as exceptionally intelligent and resourceful. Sarah Leonard is stepping into the role of CEO. Her experience and dedication to the Chamber has her primed to lead the organization.

As my 15 years at the Chamber comes to a close, I am experiencing all the emotions though one stands out among the rest. Gratitude. I am immensely grateful that I have been able to grow at this wonderful organization. I’ve been able to work with so many partners of the Chamber who are genuinely dedicated to our town. The current and past Boards of Directors who believed in and supported me. The Chamber team who has taught me so much and is so very dear in my heart. And of course, my family, who got me through the hard days and celebrated the good ones.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber is not a nebulous concept or walled club. It is people. It’s Sarah, Laura, Carol, Angelica, Ceci, and Kara. It is our board who are your friends and neighbors. All here to help. I hope our community sees that more with each day passing.

I have been honored to be a part of the Chamber team for so many years. Steamboat is still my home, and I look forward to what lies ahead for me here in this incredible community.

Kara Stoller
Steamboat Chamber/Courtesy photo

Kara Stoller stepped down as chief executive officer of the Steamboat Springs Chamber in January after 15 years with the organization.

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