Elizabeth Cromwell is the president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. Since 1912, the Chamber has acted as liaison between the Frederick County community and the region’s businesses. It was the first chartered Chamber of Commerce in the United States and, over a hundred years later, continues to be a vital contributor to Frederick County’s evolving economic climate. The Chamber’s mission is to advocate for local businesses and create public–private connections that improve both sectors’ economic welfare. Elizabeth has served as Chamber president and CEO since July 2014. Prior to her current position, she served as Corporate and Community Partnerships Director for the Frederick County Public Libraries for 12 years.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Did you grow up in Frederick, or did you move here?
ELIZABETH CROMWELL: My trip to Frederick was a tad circuitous. I actually lived all over the country. I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, attended college in New Orleans, lived in Washington, D.C. for four years, and was out in California for 10 years. When my husband and I got married and settled down—we both had family back on the East Coast—and we felt like it was an important time for us to be a little bit closer to our parents, who were getting older. We knew we wanted to settle around this general vicinity. We had no idea that Frederick existed, and so we were passing through town—this general area—and got lost, came into Frederick to have dinner and get directions, and realized that this was the place we had been looking for all along. We bought a house almost immediately, right in the heart of downtown. We knew nothing about historic preservation, but we bought a huge old home and restored it and had a wonderful time and have not regretted the move in the 16 years we’ve been here.
You worked for the public library system for twelve years. How did you transition from that job to being at the Chamber?
When I was working in the tech field, I was doing work for a number of dot-com firms and traveling very, you know, on a moment’s notice. So, when I had my daughter and I really couldn’t live that lifestyle anymore—and didn’t want to—I happened to discover the public library with her. I brought her in there as a toddler to the “Babies With Books” program. I hadn’t set foot in a public library in decades, and fell in love with it. There was something so honestly magical about walking into a building every day that you hear children who are thrilled when the doors open, and just that magic of learning. When I met the library director there, he asked me about my sports marketing background. We got talking about corporate sponsorship and he said, “Is that a model that you could ever apply to a public library?” I said, “Well, I have no idea. I don’t think anyone has really tried it,” and I said, “But, you know, it sounds like I’d love to take a flyer on it.” He said, “Well, I trust you to raise awareness about the library, raise the stature of the library in any way you can. I can’t give you a budget to do it; I can hire you, but you have to go out in the business community and find whatever money is out there to make anything happen.” And I said, “That sounds great!”
I ended up staying for 12 years because it was such a great experience. What I found is that my approach to dealing with businesses in the community relied a lot on understanding what their needs were. I would meet with banks and insurance companies and anybody who had a new product coming out, and try to figure out “who are you trying to talk to with your product?” Or “what are you trying to accomplish here?” And “how can we segment the library population in a way that is going to make you look great and is going to do some real benefit for the community?”
It worked really well. I had a lot of freedom there, and I really enjoyed it, and so when the job came open at the Chamber I actually didn’t think of it right away. But numerous people approached me and said “you’ve worked with businesses for so long and you know so much about other people’s business plans” that it actually wouldn’t be that much of a leap for me to come to work at the Chamber, and that’s how it worked out
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