- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Boosting the reputation of Charles County in general and providing more services to member businesses are items on the agenda of Craig Renner, who will be inaugurated as president of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce on Saturday.
“There doesn’t seem to be a great, or there doesn’t seem to be a concerted effort to talk about all the great things happening in Charles County, which is why so many people and businesses are continuing to want to call Charles County home,” said Renner, who is also vice president for public relations for The St. Charles Cos., developer of several large planned communities in Waldorf. “I think we’re just going to talk about this. We’re just going to be the ones to trumpet it. I think any good chamber does that.”
The chamber is collaborating with The Corporate Center in White Plains, part of the College of Southern Maryland, to organize seminars about social media, time management and other topics pertinent to businesspeople, said Renner, who will serve for one year. Chamber members will have first dibs on the classes.
“What I want to see the chamber do is … being more aggressive in the programs and services it offers to our members, creating more value for our membership. [Providing] better advocacy, not just for business growth in Charles County — we all want that — but Charles County itself,” he said.
Renner hopes to see other collaborations, including with the Calvert and St. Mary’s counties’ chambers, and with the Southern Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce.
A joint project to help military veterans gain skills and find work could even be in the works with the Business Alliance of Charles County, a group formed in 2011 after the divisive firing of the chamber’s former Executive Director Ken Gould, Renner said.
The project is embryonic, as Gould said he had not been approached about it. But John Flatley, the owner of a Chick-fil-A franchise who left the chamber to protest Gould’s dismissal, said he and Renner have discussed the idea.
Gould said he was open the idea.
“I know that he had spoken with John … that that was one of the things he wanted to focus on, vets. That’s something that’s near and dear to our hearts,” and is clearly important to Renner as well, Gould said.
The year also will see the chamber launch a local “entrepreneurship academy,” based on a template provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to teach business skills to middle and high school students, Renner said. Upon completion of the 30-week course, the students will own their own small businesses.
“It’s an intensive program, and I think it fills a need in this county [to] help foster that spirit of entrepreneurship, to get those kids thinking about starting and creating their own businesses,” Renner said.
Lawyer Sue Greer, whose La Plata law firm is a chamber member, said she was delighted that Renner is taking over. The two worked together at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, he as spokesman and she as general counsel, in the late 1990s, and Greer expected him to draw on skills learned in the public and private sectors to help the chamber navigate both worlds this year.
“What makes Craig a good leader, I think I told you, is he’s very insightful and thoughtful … in the way Craig approaches something. If someone asked me to describe him, that’s how I’d describe him. He gives a lot of thought to the issue, looks at it in its broad sense and narrow sense, at what the answer is now and what the answer is in the future,” Greer said.
Greer is chairwoman of the chamber’s new economic development committee.
“The goal there is to identify and support county and state policies that will nurture and grow existing businesses. Our goal, by doing that, is to attract new members,” Renner said.
The chamber has scrutinized and weighed in on proposed legislation in Annapolis, and wants to engage with county government as well, he said.
“I think it’s broader than [county politics]. With the chamber, we have our legislative affairs committee, which has traditionally taken a look at legislative initiatives during the session in Annapolis and made recommendations. We have one of best legislative committees in the state. We take a look at legislation throughout the state basically through one prism: ‘Does it promote free enterprise throughout the state of Maryland?’” Renner said.
But that doesn’t mean neglecting local matters. The chamber is looking to get more of its members on county volunteer boards, he said.
“I think we want to do both. In particular, we talked with county commissioners — and a number of county boards and commissions below the [board of] commissioners, where the county is seeking membership. We’re going to be making those vacancies available to our members by letting them know they’re available and how they can apply,” Renner said.
Outgoing president Carlos Montague had high hopes for Renner’s term.
“I think he’ll do a great job and he will give the chamber exactly what it needs, a focus on businesses themselves. They are people and not just numbers. They are people,” said Montague, who is also president and CEO of Port Tobacco Consulting in La Plata.
Renner already has started taking the chamber in the direction it should go by implementing ideas conceived at a retreat last fall, said Darlene Breck, 2010 chamber president and owner of Southern Maryland Business Center in La Plata.
The ideas included reviving an annual “State of the County” luncheon with the county commissioners, sheriff’s office and other officials, and having information more readily available for curious people who wander into the chamber’s La Plata office with questions.
Renner “believes in a lot of that camaraderie, in bringing people in, helping other small business owners and bringing back a lot of the things the chamber used to do, [like participate in] certain trade shows and things along those lines,” Breck said.