ORLEANS — You might say Lisa Simundson caught a wave and never let go.
From living in Florida to moving to the Cape a decade ago, the new executive director of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce has spent her career writing about and promoting the special merits of coastal communities.
“I grew up the Florida way,” she said last week. “You’re outside 365 days a year. If you don’t go to the beach today, you go tomorrow. The weather is so consistent, you don’t even feel the passage of time.”
When Simundson’s husband, a Jet Blue pilot, decided to fly for Cape Air, the family, including their two daughters, moved to Harwich. “In October, I thought it was cold,” she recalled. “Everybody was telling me the cold was coming. I didn’t know how to dress. There was no such thing as layering down there.”
In fact, this daughter of the Sunshine State hates the heat. “I don’t know how I lasted,” she said. “Summer starts down there in March and goes all the way through November. There’s 98, 95 percent humidity. I never had taken a walk in summer until we moved here.”
Through her walks on the Cape, Simundson learned about local history and began to feel more at home. There was a Massachusetts connection already: she has ancestors who lived here in Colonial times but left for Canada before the American Revolution. The other side of her family “came over from Italy on the boat” in the early 1900s.
With her editorial skills ideal for telecommuting, “I kept a lot of my Florida accounts,” Simundson said. “I was going down to Florida quite a bit.” Then she realized something. “I had to become more a part of the community,” she said. “I couldn’t just sit in my office at home and never engage.”
That realization led to a teacher’s aide post with Cape Cod Community College’s Project Forward, working with special needs students. Then, in 2015, she answered an ad to work in the Orleans Chamber’s information booth.
“For Floridians, tourism is in our DNA,” Simundson said. “I carried that coming here. I’m happy to see the tourists come here and talk to them.” That worked so well that she joined Executive Director Noelle Pina at the chamber’s Main Street office as office manager. Her editorial skills were deployed on publications such as “Truly Orleans” magazine, and she started to learn how the organization’s members help each other.
Pina “mentored me,” said Simundson. “She taught me about the business-to-business side. I helped her, I hope, with the tourism side. We worked well together. She left an amazing strategic plan. Really, that side of it is covered, the direction the chamber will go, what goals we want to accomplish.”
In her new job, Pina couldn’t be closer if questions come up. Earlier this year, she became marketing and business development manager for Friends’ Marketplace. By that time, Simundson had already left the chamber to become administrator of the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit. “I wanted to get to the next level of management,” she said.
When the top job in Orleans came open, Simundson thought things over and eventually applied. She said she “couldn’t be happier” with the result. She’s not the only one.
“Lisa is incredibly detail-oriented, professional, and an incredible writer,” chamber board of directors member Sassy Richardson wrote in an email. “She has been Noelle’s right-hand woman and treats the chamber like her own, as Noelle did. We are beyond thrilled to have her in this position. Her dedication and general love for Orleans will continue to shine.”
The chamber’s “first priority” is to “concentrate on members, their needs, and building membership,” Simundson said. That includes not only attracting visitors but trying to retain people on their way elsewhere.
“Orleans is very much a crossroads,” she said. “People come in and say they’re on their way to Provincetown… We try to get them to eat here, shop here. We tell them about Main Street. We’re one of the towns on Cape that has a walkable downtown. We’re known for our art galleries – so many, and they’re amazing.”
In addition to customers, businesses need staff. “The J1s have been an issue, even before the (pandemic) restrictions,” Simundson said of students from other nations who make up part of the area’s summer workforce. “There’s a challenge to find housing. We’re involved in that. Noelle had a couple of seminars to try to interest people in renting a room. Most of the available housing is word of mouth… I think the housing is there, it’s just not advertised.”
Homeowners may be reluctant, but Simundson said the students are “here to work.” One of her daughters once worked at Shaw’s with “one girl who had a day job and rode her bike to Orleans to work 5 to 11 p.m. On-site partying? I don’t think that’s an issue.”
Watch for the chamber’s annual events to start populating the calendar again, but slowly. “I was over at the village green on one of our concert nights two years ago,” Simundson said. “The (Cape Cod Baseball League) game had just ended. People were coming over with their chairs and water coolers from the game to the concert. It just felt like, this town is happening.”