Cynthia Mudge wants to be an accessible champion for Twin Cities businesses as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, using her skills in creating partnerships to increase economic prosperity in her new capacity as the executive director of the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce.
March 21 was Mudge’s first day in the position, a role she assumed following the recent resignation of director Alicia Fox, who held the position for 10 years.
Having grown up in Seattle, Mudge moved to the area a couple of years ago to help her father live out the rest of his days at the sheep farm her family owns.
Helping him through the long and hard tasks that hospice care demands, Mudge has had a trying time through the pandemic.
Re-entering her career after the personal hardships she endured is a refreshing change of pace that leaves her hopeful, she told The Chronicle.
“This job opening came at the right time,” Mudge said. “I sort of felt like, ‘I’m a human being again, I’m reemerging.’ So that part’s been exciting. … My parents loved living here, especially my dad. If he were alive, he would be so happy that I am going to be doing this job. That part excited me. I get to learn, truly, why they loved this community so much.”
Yet Mudge said she knows the pandemic years have been hard on everyone, noting that the business community has been hit especially hard.
“Really, the last two years, everyone — their lives have been in upheaval,” Mudge said. “There’s been a lot of change. … Every business has had to deal with not just one change, but for a while there it was like every few days there were new things we had to adjust to.”
She said 2020 was truly challenging in this way and said businesses are only now seeing the fruits of the resilience the pandemic inadvertently honed within them.
“I think everyone’s coming out of this exhausted and a little bit spent,” she said. “But I think also, everyone — especially businesses — are coming out of it with new skills, new survival skills, that forced them to be more creative with how they run their business. It’s forced everyone to learn how to work outside the box because it disappeared. I mean, there is no box, so now what do we do?”
Mudge said she’ll strive to be accessible and a point of contact to provide businesses with the resources they need to succeed.
Mudge will be facilitating a revamp of the chamber’s website, which will include a new business directory, and eventually provide information on educational opportunities in the community and also a portal for folks to post their resumes to find work.
“One thing I’m doing is I’m reaching out,” she said. “We’re going to do a survey of the members and find out what they need most.”
She added that an apparent crisis the Twin Cities business community is currently facing is the lack of employment candidates to fill open positions.
“Almost every business I know is having trouble … finding staff,” Mudge said. “The chamber started doing that with a couple job fairs. We are potentially doing another one in June.”
She noted there could be another job fair in the fall as well.
Mudge said the job has been wonderful so far, thanks to a great board of directors, and that her primary focus for the last two weeks has been creating relationships between herself and the people she serves.
Those relationships, she said, create partnerships that can be invaluable for economic development.
She’s honed her skills in creating meaningful partnerships through two positions she’s held, spanning 17 years.
She was the executive director of the Astoria Sunday Market in Oregon for 13 years and coordinated Astoria’s Lewis and Clark Bicentennial participation in the years prior.
The Sunday market had about 200 vendors, spanning three blocks and two parking lots right in the heart of Astoria. Under her leadership, the market became a large economic driver for Astoria, she said.
The bicentennial project had about 12 different installations throughout Oregon and Washington as the region celebrated the founding of the Oregon Territory.
“It was an economic boon, and helped grow and market that area,” Mudge said of Astoria’s installation of the bicentennial. “When I moved there, people were like, ‘Why are you moving to Astoria?’ It had a reputation of basically being a bar town, and it had been more of an industrial — timber, fishermen — town, and it was just starting to turn. It was the place you would drive through to get someplace else.
“The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial really changed a lot of that, and brought a lot of attention to the area, which we wanted,” she said, adding later: “I’m really proud of what we did with that.”
The market and bicentennial taught her how to find innovative revenue sources through grant writing and fundraising efforts, she said. But perhaps more important were the connections she made during her time marketing the events.
“Both of those events required, really, developing strong partnerships with numerous communities and entities — with people who really wanted to participate, but weren’t formally part of our program. I really credit both of those projects for giving me the ability and opportunity to develop those (partnership) skills,” Mudge said. “That’s probably what I am going to bring to the chamber a lot, is just reaching out to the other entities. There’s lots of organizations doing great work. We need to work well with our cities, the county (and) the state. We’ve got to be partners.”