Chamber Director Leading With Vision

by Ryan Bray
Judy Lindahl enters her second year as executive director of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce this month.  COURTESY PHOTO Judy Lindahl enters her second year as executive director of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce this month. COURTESY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Last April, the Orleans Chamber of Commerce was in need of a new executive director. But finding the right person for the job proved difficult, recalled Judy Lindahl, who at the time chaired the chamber’s board of directors.

“We all knew what the vision needed to be, and we couldn’t find that person to push that vision through, to carry it out,” she said.

As the saying goes, sometimes if you want something done you have to do it yourself. So when the opportunity arose for her to lead the chamber, she took it.

“I had the working knowledge,” she said. “I knew what the board wanted and what the board would let me do, and I knew how I wanted an executive director to represent the town and represent the board. So I had an advantage, and I wasn’t going to let them down.”

One year later, Lindahl has helped re-energize the local chamber, growing its membership and building relationships with local businesses, both members and non-members alike. Lindahl has also been at the helm of a number of new chamber initiatives that have served to further bolster the nonprofit’s presence in town.

“We’re really noticed now by the town, I think,” said Justin Alex, the current chair of the chamber’s board of directors. “Before, I think a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at the chamber as a serious entity.”

A native of Hartford, Conn., Lindahl has been summering on the Lower Cape since she was young. She moved full-time to Eastham in 1986, where she and her husband raised their two children. But she said Orleans has always held a special place in her heart.

“I was a summer brat,” she said. “My first job was at Angelo’s here in Orleans at 14 years old, bagging groceries.”

Before taking the executive director post, Lindahl worked for 18 years in sales and marketing at Nauset Marine. Prior to that, she worked for seven years at Pease Boat Works and Marine in Chatham.

Alex said the chamber went through a thorough hiring process in search of a new director, but that Lindahl “won the job” in the end.

“Her knowledge of the town, her relationships with business and town hall, it was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “Her plan of attack, her 90-day action plan that she put into place right away and got going on, she’s really lived up to our expectations.”

The call to lead the chamber came at the right time for Lindahl, who said she welcomed the opportunity to try something new in her career.

“It was a challenge that I needed in my life at the time a year ago,” she said. “I didn’t feel challenged anymore. I felt like I just needed something more.”

Lindahl jumped into the role with both feet. Less than a month into the job, she helped the chamber kick off its first annual Boards in the Stores initiative, which paired local artists and businesses to create and auction off custom-decorated surfboards. The event was a success, raising $21,000 that was split evenly between the chamber and participating artists. The chamber is bringing the event back for its second year in May.

In December, the chamber organized its first Holiday Stroll, which invited shoppers to patronize local businesses during extended evening hours. The chamber is looking to build upon that event’s success with a new initiative, First Fridays, which similarly will offer after-hours shopping, dining and deals on the first Friday of every month from June through October. An additional after-hours event is also being planned to coincide with this fall’s Outermost Roots and Blues Festival, which returns to Nauset Beach on Columbus Day weekend.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to,” she said. “Instituting new events with the chamber members and the board of directors and seeing what works. If it doesn’t work, we know we can do something else.”

For many businesses, that initiative to reach out and build relationships has made all the difference. Lindahl said 41 businesses have joined the chamber since she started as director.

“They wanted someone to communicate with,” she said. “A point of contact. I walked into each business and said ‘You need something from town hall? You’re not getting the response you need? Give me a call. I can pick up a phone too, so let’s see if we can solve this situation.’”

Baskin’s ACE Hardware was one business that took Lindahl up on that offer last fall, when co-owner Lynn Colangione emailed her with interest in taking the space vacated last summer by the Christmas Tree Shops on South Orleans Road. Lindahl put her in touch with Greg Bilezikian, whose family owns the location, and by December the business had signed a 10-year lease on the property.

The efforts of Lindahl and others in the community to help the Bilezikian family find a new tenant for the property came as the family had another offer from a national chain.

“I knew that I could tug on his heart strings and make it make sense,” she said. “I said ‘I don’t want you losing your shirt over this, but don’t ride out of town and everyone has a bad taste in their mouth for the Bilezikians.’ And I knew he would never do that, but it was like ‘C’mon guys, we need to put something else out in front.’”

The move has been celebrated as a win for the business community and the town, and Lindahl said she’s hopeful that the chamber and the town can continue to work together to address a host of local issues, from housing to economic development. Looking back on the last year, she said one of the things she’s most proud of is the gains that have been made in communication between the chamber, the town and other local organizations.

“There’s an energy here in Orleans that wasn’t here before,” she said. “There’s some kind of other force. People are just excited about Orleans. We have a new town manager, a new assistant town manager, a new assistant town planner. We’re all in contact with each other all the time now.”

“That’s a quality that we really liked in Judy when we hired her, that she can really take the bull by the horns and go with it,” Alex said. “She doesn’t have to ask a thousand questions. She takes the position and goes with it. She knows what to do and what the board wants her to do.”

But as she starts her second year at the chamber’s helm, Lindahl said there’s still plenty more to be done. She continues to be a vocal advocate for local businesses that stand to potentially be impacted by ongoing sewer work in town, and also sits on the town’s economic development committee.

Orleans has its eyes on revitalizing downtown along Main Street and out toward Town Cove to make the area more walkable to residents and visitors and attractive to prospective businesses. For Lindahl, a big part of that process is making it easier for businesses to come and do business in town by simplifying the local permitting process.

“I want a business to look at Orleans and say ‘Yes, I really want to be a part of that community,’” she said. “And when they finally make that decision, I need it to be a streamlined process for them to get all set up for their business.”

Lindahl said she also hopes the town will consider more mixed-use development that can accommodate both housing and retail, and also spoke in favor of the creation of more multi-modal transportation options, namely those that can connect Nauset Beach to downtown.

If she wanted a challenge, she certainly found one in leading the chamber. But Lindahl said she’s already looking ahead to what the future holds for the town and the Orleans business community.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year,” she said.

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