The head of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce will step down Feb. 17 after a little more than four years – roughly half of which was dominated by a pandemic that took a severe toll on businesses locally and around the world.
“Like a lot of people, COVID gave me time to think about what’s really important,” the chamber’s departing President and CEO Elizabeth Cromwell told The Daily Progress on Wednesday.
The result of her ruminations: Cromwell said she plans to take a sort of sabbatical year carved into quarters focusing on volunteering, personal projects, freelance work and some vacationing.
Cromwell announced her resignation to chamber members on Tuesday in an email.
Andrea Copeland, the chamber’s director of committee engagement, has been named interim president, the chamber said in a statement, which also noted the board has appointed a search committee to find a permanent replacement.
Cromwell, 58, came to the chamber in the fall of 2018 after a national search pulled her away from a similar post in Maryland’s Frederick County.
She was a positive force for Charlottesville during her tenure, according to Neil Williamson, the leader of the Free Enterprise Forum, another local business group.
“Elizabeth Cromwell transformed the chamber by refocusing its mission on convening all stakeholders and developing consensus solutions rather than promoting one position from the get-go,” Williamson told The Daily Progress on Wednesday.
A recent annual report shows that, during the COVID-racked year of 2021, the chamber held 79 virtual and in-person networking events with 1,897 participants. That same report notes that of the 59 organizations that joined in 2021, nearly a quarter were minority-owned or -operated.
According to chamber board Chair Rebecca Ivins, Cromwell should be particularly proud of launching two initiatives: Partners in Trust, a project to strengthen the chamber and provide members “marketing visibility through multiple avenues,” and Project Rebound, an effort to assist local businesses started after the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
“She’s done a great job for the chamber, and we are positioned now to continue to build on the great work that she has done,” Ivins told The Daily Progress on Wednesday.
Sitting in her dimly lit office downtown as cars sloshed through the sleet outside on Market Street Wednesday, Cromwell detailed her plans for the year ahead.
The first place on her itinerary is likely sunnier: the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Despite the rocky coastline, azure waters and classical architecture that attract tourists from around the globe, living there is about half the cost of living in Charlottesville, Cromwell said.
Next, she has registered on trustedhousesitters.com to live and work in San Francisco and Santa Barbara.
Later this fall, Cromwell said she will head to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island and getaway for the rich and famous, where she plans to volunteer for a nonprofit residential education center for people who have autism that a cousin is launching.
The fourth quarter is uncertain. Maybe Guatemala or Thailand, she said, as long as she doesn’t stray too far from her mother in Maryland.
As for the chamber, Cromwell said that she is proud to have led the creation of a strategic plan and then carry out several of its prescriptions.
“This is probably a really good moment for the organization to get somebody fresh to come in and help create a new plan and then execute it,” she said.
Ivins said Cromwell has left the chamber ready to take its next steps with confidence.
“Our region is positioned for some very strategic growth thanks to Elizabeth,” she said. “She’s taking a much-deserved sabbatical. She’s an incredible woman who is setting off to do some things that the rest of us should be highly envious of.”
“We’re going to miss Elizabeth,” said Williamson. “She’s been a real good egg.”