The CT River Valley Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting at the St. Clement’s Castle in Portland, on Jan. 26, and honored several of its members for accomplishments over the past year.
The tenor of the meeting was one of optimism, after dealing with the impacts of the pandemic on businesses over the past two years.
“It is great to see so many smiling faces,” said President Jessica Olander. “I’m happy to say that we’re back in the event business and in-person.”
Outgoing Chairman of the Board of Directors Paul Haas said he saw so much pivoting during the pandemic, but is excited to see the events, because they mark important moments in time.
“Hiring Jessica Olander as our president [in early 2021] - that was not a pivot, that was an event. Jessica is taking a great organization that pivoted throughout 2020 and 2021 and is making significant improvements - changes that will make the chamber better and more essential in our community,” Haas said, also thanking the chamber’s Director of Membership Services Kim Collins.
“She has focused on our membership. That has paid off in increased energy and enthusiasm, and most importantly, increased membership,” Haas said.
Incoming Chairman of the Board Steve Weir thanked Haas for his hard work during the pandemic and keeping the chamber stable. Weir said his goals going forward are to work closely with chamber members to navigate the road ahead and reestablish what the chamber stands for.
“It still stands for networking and events,” Weir said, adding that it also stands for mentoring, working together as three towns, and working with state legislators to advocate for small businesses.
“Small business is the backbone of the economy,” he said. “We need to be telling our stories to the policy-holders with the same energy that we use towards our customers.”
Haas was also given the President’s Award.
“He does not stop,” Olander said. “Paul is a man of the members... passionate and dedicated to this chamber.”
The Ambassador of the Year was awarded to Lisa Romano, of William Pitt Sotheby’s.
Romano said the ambassador program is one way to give back to the chamber.
“The chamber gives us so much to improve our business. It is well beyond networking. There are so many things the chamber gives us,” she said. “This gives us a chance to give back to the chamber. It’s very much a two-way relationship.”
The Business Person of the Year award went to Bob Zanlungo, of Norcom Mortgage, and was presented by previous winner, Jordan Coe of Waverly Markets/Shop Rite of East Hartford.
“He radiates positivity,” Coe said. “Bob is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever admired from afar. If you are in his orbit and something matters to you, it matters to him. His endless dedication to the needs of others is inspiring and uplifting, particularly in a time when all of our mental health has suffered over the past two years.”
Zanlungo has held many roles in the chamber since he started participating in 2006. He has also served as a Town Council member and is currently the chairman of the Town Planning and Zoning Commission.
Zanlungo said his success was built on a foundation he created through his involvement with the chamber.
“I spent more hours the first few years in the industry drinking coffee and connecting with people than closing loans,” he said. “It was tough. I was building a foundation for success.”
The pandemic, Zanlungo said, has taught businesses and chamber members many lessons.
“We live in a polarized culture and society,” he said. “We have people telling us you’re either with us or you’re against us. People see things in either black or white, with no room for gray. And yet, magic happens in the gray area. We’re all in this together. We’ll either succeed or fail together.”