Amanda Conn, the executive director of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, was excited to discuss the organization’s new COVID-19 Rapid Screening Initiative.

New chamber executive says she ‘grew up’ in Haliburton

By Mike Baker

It turns out that Haliburton’s newest professional import has quite an extensive history in the local community.

Amanda Conn took the reins as executive director of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce earlier this month. It’s an unfamiliar role in a familiar place for Conn, who spent her entire childhood cottaging in the Highlands.

“I’m from the GTA originally, but spent a lot of time in Haliburton year-round cottaging with my family. We were up here every single weekend of the year. I would say that I grew up here, even though I wasn’t born here,” Conn said.

She made her status as an adopted Haliburtonian official around six years ago, purchasing a home in the community. Having spent more than a decade forging a successful career in marketing, specializing in the technology industry, Amanda found herself at something of a crossroads as 2020 wound down.

Working remotely comes with its perks, especially if it means you get to avoid long drives down to the city, but Amanda found herself wanting more from her work life. Specifically, she felt a need to do more to help people – likeminded people with an interest in business.

“It sort of fell into my lap – literally,” Amanda said. “I was looking through the paper one day and noticed the ad for the position with the chamber. Previously, when I was part of a smaller company, we were a member of a board of trade. I got involved in networking events, different programs and it allowed my company to compete on a larger scale with larger companies, so I’ve always had a fondness for this line of work.”

Given that jobs in her chosen profession are so few and far between in rural communities such as ours, Conn took the posting as a sign that, perhaps, this was simply meant to be.

“The more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea. I like to be involved in start-ups, I like to help businesses grow, succeed and deal with challenges,” she said. “I know what it’s like in the business world, and I know it’s not always easy to see a way out when you’re in the situation yourself. Sometimes it’s nice to have that entity you can go to for ideas. I thought this would be really interesting, and a way I can contribute, be part of the community and part of networking opportunities for businesses in the area.”

By now, she has spent two weeks on the job, learning the ropes and figuring things out. So far, it’s been a giant learning curve, but it’s one Amanda says she’s thoroughly enjoying.

“Having been up here my entire life, I really thought I knew the area. But it turns out there are a lot of people that I don’t know,” Amanda said. “It’s been great these first few weeks, I’ve received lots of warm welcomes, and I’ve been getting up to speed with the different programs and initiatives the chamber offers. We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now. There’s a lot going on, which is important because our business community, right now, has a lot of challenges.”

2020 was a busy year for the chamber as they sought to support a business community decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of the programs rolled out, such as the BuyCloseBy and Barter Pay initiatives, will continue in 2021, Conn was quick to point out that additional supports could soon be available.

“We do have some projects we’re trying to get funding for. We’re working through some planning processes to get more money, so we do have some things in the works,” Conn said.

Over the coming weeks and months, Amanda says she hopes to meet as many people from the local business community as possible so that she can start helping those who need to get back on their feet.

“In the coming months, I’ll be connecting with our members with a focus on supporting them in achieving their business goals. Through current programs, new programs, advocacy and networking opportunities, we continue to be committed to supporting commerce throughout the Haliburton Highlands,” Conn concluded.

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