New Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce leader wants to 're-invent' organization

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Kamelia Fisher

CUYAHOGA FALLS — The new leader of the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce said she is looking to "re-invent" the organization.

Kamelia Fisher, 61, became the executive director of the Falls Chamber in mid-March after serving in an interim leadership role for about a month.

"I hear from a lot of people…that the Cuyahoga Falls chamber is one of the best ones they've ever worked with," Fisher said. "I hope to continue that, but bring some new programs, maybe some more ideas and shift some of the things that we're doing in 2021. We're looking at how can we re-invent, re-brand the chamber."

Fisher took over for Laura Petrella, who resigned in February after serving as CEO of the chamber for 27 years.

Fisher started as the interim executive director on Feb. 10 after Kathy Romito, president of the chamber's board of directors, asked her if she would be willing to serve in the temporary role.

"Once I started working here and working with the board, it's something that I certainly am very comfortable with and pretty excited about," said Fisher.

The chamber board was so pleased with Fisher's work that they ended up offering her the permanent job. Fisher said she was "honored" to be offered the full-time position, which she accepted in mid-March.

Romito praised Fisher for the work she did in the interim role.

"Kamelia came to us with considerable, large-scale non-profit experience and an extensive network that has been cultivated over a long and distinguished career," Romito said in a note to chamber members. "Her qualifications and skill set made her a unique and timely solution to our 'interim' problem. It quickly became apparent Kamelia was the person that should lead the chamber into its next chapter."

Romito said the chamber board did not interview other candidates for the job. She explained the board wants to shift the chamber's focus from events to member  benefits, and felt Fisher possessed the right tools to engineer that transition.

"We needed to increase the value and benefit of the membership," Romito said. "We ultimately felt that someone with the additional crisis management, fundraising, and corporate/government relations experience that Kamelia possesses was the right person to lead [us] where we have never been. …The results that Kamelia has produced in an interim role far exceeded our expectations."

As someone who's spent 40 years working in for-profit and non-profit organizations, Fisher said a chamber of commerce is a "perfect combination of what I've spent my career doing."

Fisher noted she's always been a member of a chamber of commerce while she's worked as a leader of other organizations. She was a member of the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce when she was executive director of Summit Art Space from January 2017 through December 2019, and a member of the Akron Chamber of Commerce in her most recent job as executive director of One of a Kind Pet Rescue, a position she departed from in November 2020.

"The non-profit arm of it is very familiar to me as well as the business side and how I can relate to our members whether they're for-profit or non-profit," she said.

Wants to focus on member benefits

Fisher wants to focus on member benefits and ensuring the chamber is providing members with a good return on their investment. She added she is interested in "diving a little deeper into what members need."

As an example, Fisher is looking at having the chamber offer programs for entrepreneurs and people who have recently started a business.

"A lot of chamber members have started a business within the last year," Fisher said. "How do we make sure that we have programs that will help them do that?"

She added she is also interested in "enhancing some of the member-to-member programs that we have." Working through the COVID-19 pandemic has, Fisher said, offered new perspectives on the best ways for members to network with one another.

"I think it's a perfect time to step into the position because I don't see the old way," Fisher said. "I just see the possibility of the new way."

Community expo may be 'done differently'

Traditional chamber events such as the community expo are expected to continue, but "may be done differently," Fisher said.

She noted the expo has "set the [Cuyahoga Falls] chamber apart," and observed that people look forward to attending the event each year.

"We are definitely going to figure out a way to bring [the expo] back," Fisher said. "It might not look the same."

Due to the pandemic, the expo has been re-scheduled multiple times since it was first postponed in March 2020.

"I just want to make sure that we are able to safely put [the expo] on," Fisher said.

The community expo is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 23, but Fisher noted, "we may have to back away from it again."

Drawing on her previous jobs, Fisher said she's found it's important to listen to people, to deliver programs effectively and to be willing to change.

"Change is hard," Fisher said. "Even when you know you should do it, it's hard. I think that as long as you keep people informed and you ask those questions and you listen to them, you're able to navigate change better."

She said she is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

"I'm happy to be here," Fisher said. "…I love the Falls and [I'm] happy to see that it continues to grow and it's vibrant. It's just a good place to be."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.