Move leads Rifle chamber CEO to resign
After 16 months leading the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce through a transformative period, CEO and president Andrea Maddalone is resigning in advance of her family’s move to northern Idaho.
In an email to chamber members on July 13, Maddalone, a Carbondale native and Silt resident for the past 17 years, framed the decision as the pursuit of a dream long held by her and her family.
Her husband,Thomas Maddalone, recently received a job offer that will grant them the financial freedom for Maddalone, whose last day at the chamber is Friday, July 22, to spend more time with their 5-year-old son, Beau. It was a difficult decision, but one that came with a certain level of excitement.
“The door is wide open for me, so I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said in an interview. “Being a mom sounds really exciting.”
Chamber board chair Kasey Nispel, who has been involved with the chamber since 2010, stepped down from her position to serve as interim president and CEO as the board begins a search process. The hope is to have a president in place by September.
Nispel and others joined in expressing support and sadness about Maddalone’s departure.
“I think Andrea has done an amazing job,” said Nispel, who is considering applying for the position. “She had a lot to take on and tackled that.”
George Cutting, a local business owner and chamber ambassador, among other positions, said Maddalone leaves some big shoes to fill.
“The thing that was so special is that (Maddalone’s) energy brought a revitalization to the chamber,” Cutting said. “And our membership is up and we’ve got community building happening, which is what a chamber should be doing. … We’re going to miss her terribly.”
Days after the announcement, Maddalone reflected on her tenure and the broader Rifle area business climate, which has proven more resilient amid the most recent slowdown in oil and gas development compared to previous energy downturns, although, she noted that feeling likely is not universally felt.
“We bounced back quickly and we didn’t dip low … we did face a dip, there’s no doubt. Everybody knows we faced a dip and it was rough for a while, but it wasn’t really low and it wasn’t really long.”
She points to steady sales tax numbers in Rifle — unaudited year-to-date numbers through April show an increase of $119,769 in 2016 compared to 2015 — and other factors as evidence of the current economic stability.
Still, that is not to say the Rifle area is free of challenges, which include lingering hesitation from previous downturns, as well as questions on whether or not the local community can sustain new businesses.
While a number of new businesses opened in the past 16 months, some of those same businesses also closed their doors.
“We have people feeling comfortable to open up businesses. … We have all four corners of our downtown filled. We have cute coffee shops, we’ve got ice cream shops, we’ve got great restaurants. That’s what makes a town,” she said. “And the negative is that they also close, and … is shopping local enough to keep businesses open? Are all the efforts that we try to do keeping businesses open?”
Helping new businesses launch and aiding existing businesses in staying open became the central goal of the chamber during Maddalone’s tenure.
Prior to that shift, the primary focus was on tourism, which remains a smaller part of the chamber’s overall mission.
Several factors led to that change, including the decision to relocate from the Rifle information center, which served as the chamber’s home for years.
Following the chamber’s move to its current location on Railroad Avenue and a decision to cease operating the center, the city, which paid the chamber to run the information center, decided to close it during the 2016 budgeting process.
The decision was controversial for some, and Maddalone said several downtown businesses have reported being affected by the center’s closure. The degree of impact, or whether or not there really has been a direct impact, is hard to gauge, she said.
People have always approached the chamber inquiring how to start a business, and those questions have noticeably increased in the past year, especially once the chamber moved last summer.
In the past, the problem was nobody really knew how to respond to those people interested in starting a business. Gaining that knowledge was part of the chamber’s necessary evolution toward fostering business development and growth.
“Our goal is when somebody walks through the door and says, ‘hi, I’m interested in starting a business’ … we give them the right direction and we give them the right tools and we give them the right advice,” she said.
Along those lines, the chamber has partnered with Colorado Mountain College in Rifle to offer a series of business masters courses in the fall. The first course will be free, Maddalone said.
Additionally, the chamber is poised to engage in some long-term strategic planning in the fall. Key to the future direction will be the needs in the community.
“So in five years will we be more tourism based or business based? I’d imagine we’ll just adapt with the times, and right now the times are telling us people are comfortable enough to open a business. People are also telling us ‘help us stay in business,’” Maddalone said.
Regardless of what direction the chamber takes, Nispel said the organization is well poised to meet the needs in the community.
“Change scares people but I think we’re confident in moving forward, and we wish Andrea well,” Nispel said. “She’s put a great structure in place and we can just keep on moving forward positively for our community.”
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Rifle and New Castle are seeing decent increases in tax revenue, according to financial administrators.