Esser tenders resignation effective April 30 as Boonville Chamber Director

Chris Bowie
Boonville Daily News
Boonville Chamber Director Karen Esser has tendered her resignation effective April 30. Esser has spent the last five years at the Chamber as either associate or director.

Boonville Chamber Director Karen Esser has tendered her resignation effective April 30 after spending the last five years as either the director or associate. 

In a statement from Esser on stepping down, she said: “This position has been my heart and soul for nearly five years but I feel it is time to retire.  It has been my extreme pleasure to have worked with you during my tenure.  You brought out the best in me and for that I will be eternally grateful.”

Boonville Chamber President Laura Gramlich said Esser has been a vital part of the Chamber during her tenure.  

“Her love for Boonville and the surrounding community has shown in everything she's done,” Gramlich said. “Her dedication to the Chamber and her attention to detail made her a valuable asset to our board and membership.  We wish her well in her retirement and her shoes will be hard to fill. I know that she will continue to support the community she calls home and look forward to seeing her at all the various gatherings in the future.  She will definitely be missed.”

Gramlich said no timeline has been set to hire a replacement.  

The Boonville Daily News had a sit down with Esser on leaving the Chamber. Here are her responses to questions from the BDN: 

Q: Why did you decide to leave the Chamber?

A: Since I’m fast approaching the three-quarter century mark age wise, it was/is time.  I’ve not spent nearly as much time with family and friends as I should have because of the time constraints of the position and, well, a pandemic.  Heck, I still have two years of Christmas cards and gifts that haven’t made it to their intended recipients because of my commitments here.  Echoes back to that saying:  When dying, no one ever said they wished they’d spent more time at the office.

Q: How many people work at the Chamber?

A: The Chamber has two employees, each working part-time, approximately 50% FTE each.   

Q: As Chamber Director, who do you work closely with?

A: This position is fairly independent.  Board of Directors is comprised of business owners, educators, the self-employed, bankers, all of whom volunteer her/his time to Chamber matters.  Attempt to minimize interruptions to work schedules or family time.  Work closely with Chamber members, City and County officials, Economic Development, committees, taskforces, volunteers, co-workers, and the general public.

 Q: What do you feel was your best accomplishment(s) during your five-year tenure as Chamber Director?

A: I’ve only been Director since October 2019 but have a total of five-years of service to the Chamber.  During my stint as Chamber Associate, creating the Boonville Community Profile and Resource Guide was a challenge but an accomplishment.  The prior Guide was published in 2011 which meant nearly every section of the document required updating or a complete rewrite.  In addition to writing and research, the project involved ad sales and design, taking indoor and outdoor photographs, doubling the size of the Business Directory, and proofreading – lots of proofreading.  Thankfully, the businesses purchasing ads were incredibly patient as the project took nearly two years to complete, working after hours and on weekends.  As Director, the highlights were bringing Independence Day fireworks to a much larger audience in the midst of COVID, spearheading the Best of Missouri Life awards process which resulted in Boonville being designated the Friendliest Small Town in Missouri as voted by the readers of Missouri Life Magazine, along with recognition to many other Chamber member and non-member businesses, and a Shop Local Promotion with local Holiday sales of over $124,000, surpassing the totals of the prior three years combined.  And, the best part of these three highlights was that it was done through community effort!

Q: When you first became director, what was the one thing you felt needed to be addressed?

A: Improve communications.  Emails have covered business issues, programs, and events, along with church dinners, scam alerts, local sporting events, fairs, festivals, and fundraisers.  Hopefully, readers were able to sift through these emails easily and select those items of interest personally or professionally.  And/or use the Delete Key liberally.  Have also been working with a committee of City and County representatives, Economic Development, and Tourism to create a Community Calendar which will further enhance communications throughout Cooper County above what the Chamber has been doing for its member businesses.  My involvement will extend past my Chamber tenure, if needed.  This project was begun over a year ago and is nearing completion.  The Calendar will serve as a resource for visitors to the area as well as area residents, including a design feature to alert restaurants, retailers, lodging accommodators, and emergency personnel when a large influx of people can be expected in order to provide a great customer service experience and drive repeat business to the area.  It’s been another great collaborative effort!  

Q: With a month left as director, what are some of the things you still want to accomplish?

A: Tie up loose ends, visit with Chamber members who have become friends, and leave things a bit better for the effort.

Q: What advice would you give the next director?

A: Make it a goal to support new and established businesses; always take the high road; be open to suggestions; admit mistakes and learn from them.  Treat everyone who walks into the Chamber Office as though he/she is the first visitor that day, week, or month.  First impressions are reflective of the residents and local businesses as well as the Chamber and should always be positive.   

Q: During your tenure you had to deal with COVID-19. How tough was it as director and what were some of the things that you tried to do with the City?

A: COVID-19 was a wake-up call.  Information was pouring in from the City, County, County Public Health, the Governor’s Office, the State, the US Congress and its Senators and Representatives, the Small Business Administration, covering precautions, mandates, programs and available assistance, and Boonville had no mechanism to disseminate this information to those who needed it past what the Chamber was providing its membership.  The Chamber created an information page on its website devoted to the pandemic to capture this information in a single location for easy accessibility.  The Chamber Office was closed to visitors but it was manned daily to keep information flowing.  

Q: Why did you want to become the director at the Chamber when you applied for the position?

A: With three and a half years of relevant experience in the Chamber Office and exposure to many facets of the position working with my predecessor, Laura Wax, it seemed like a natural progression.  There were some areas which would be new experiences, such as chatting on the radio and public speaking, but Robin and Matt Billings coached me through some early Chamber Chats, other audiences were receptive to the topics presented and, with time, it became less daunting.  The KWRT appearances were like having casual conversations with friends.  Rockin’ Robin and Matt set the tone.  Hopefully listeners could sense the camaraderie we shared.

Q: What do you want to say to the people who have helped you along the way during your five-year tenure?

A: Thank you. . .for your support and words of encouragement, for helping the Chamber meet or exceed its goals, for donating countless hours of your time, for your suggestions, pro and con, and for applauding my successes and forgiving the failures.  

Q: Can you explain to me how important it is for each town/city to have a Chamber Director?

A: The workload, time commitment, and collaborative efforts within the community are sometimes over simplified.  Planning and follow up are key.  If a town gets the support from area businesses, residents, and community leaders, a Chamber of Commerce is a must have.  Promoting the town and what it has to offer from a business perspective or from a tourist standpoint will strengthen the economy through new business development and increased pedestrian traffic.  As the community grows, the Chamber becomes a more integral part of that growth.    

Q: What is in your future now that you are stepping down as director?

A: I’ve recently been approached to consider serving as Treasurer for an organization that does amazing things for this community and have volunteered my services to other groups which are of interest to me.  Of course, I’ll need to supplement my income but lessen the time commitment.  Sort of a faux retirement for now.