Local News

“Mr. Rutland” steps down after 21 years leading Rutland’s Regional Chamber

By Polly Lynn

RUTLAND — After 21 years as CEO of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue (a.k.a. “Mr. Rutland”) will leave to become the new CEO of BROC – Community Action in Southwestern Vermont.

Donahue made the announcement Thursday, March 17, after informing the Chamber board of directors on Wednesday that he accepted the position as CEO for BROC, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income residents with emergency needs as well as develop a path to self-sufficiency.

Donahue will begin in his new role at BROC April 5.

“I always said that I would stay as long as there was a challenge and opportunities,” Donahue said of his position at RRCC. “We’ve established a great track record over the past two decades and accomplished a lot of our goals by creating many great community partnerships and collaborations… what I like most, and what I’ve always liked most, is doing community development. I did this first for the city of Rutland, then regionally for the Chamber, and now I’ll be expanding to do community development for both Rutland and Bennington counties,” Donahue said, explaining that at BROC, his budget, employees and resources are about 10 times bigger. “It’s a step up for me,” he said.

In a letter addressed to Dave Correll, president of the RRCC board of directors, Wednesday, Donahue outlined many of the accomplishments made over the past two decades:

  • We secured upwards of $30 million for the airport.
  • We “Saved the Train,” the Ethan Allen Express (Amtrak) from being eliminated in the state budget and lobbied to secure over $26 million in rail funding that will increase speed and load capacity and will connect Amtrak to Burlington in just three short years.
  • We have saved Essential Air Service subsidy (EAS) funding numerous times to keep our passenger airlines flying and we chose our currently successful operator: Cape Air.
  • We have championed natural gas for our businesses and homeowners.
  • We brought the Chamber from paper “everything” into the full speed digital world of communication and marketing through rutlandvermont.com, social media, videos, e-newsletters, e-broadcasting (with responsive design) and more.
  • We led the way in lighting up downtown Rutland with the relocation of the Chamber offices to 50 Merchants row creating a welcome center, wi-fi hot spot, and community conference room connected to the Downtown Rutland Partnership.
  • We have successfully become a contender in landing national and international conventions like the Killington Classic, the Retreads, the Red Knights MC international convention, Model T Ford Club International, the New England Rally (Rally America), the National Railway Historical Society convention, the upcoming Sports Car Club of Vermont (autocross) series 2016, RKMC Yankee Rally 2017, and the Shriners convention 2018.
  • We successfully created the popular Member to Member Discount program for members and their employees—the “Perk Card”—with over 100 area discounts for shopping local, and distribute 20,000 cards per year.
  • We have grown the annual “Business Show” from a small business card exchange event into the largest and longest running expo in this area of the state. We are being told by many that this year was the best yet.
  • We created signature annual events for the community like the fireworks extravaganza and our newly reinvented Winter in August at the Vermont Farmers Food Center, and our newest addition, the Vermont Job & Career Fair with 25 employers and 300 attendees at our first event last fall.
  • Just recently we completed a 16-month effort to bring Goodwill Industries to Rutland with a 10,000 sq. ft. retail store, adding 20 jobs and new employment and training programs for the community.

“We could not have accomplished all this and more without the tremendous support of a skilled, loyal and hard working staff, the leadership of our great board of directors and outstanding partnerships with like-minded organizations, political leaders and the media,” Donahue concluded in the letter. “I can only say THANK YOU for allowing me to be at the helm of this respected organization. Together we have made a difference we can be immensely proud of. And I am grateful.”

Correll spoke highly of Donahue and his leadership over the past 21 years. “Without Tom’s strong leadership and nose to the grindstone doing whatever it took to complete initiatives, the Chamber would not be where it is today,” he said in an interview. “Tom was able to bring many organizations and agencies together collaborating on projects and build rapport and respect. When he would call Congressman Welch’s office, Leahy’s office or the governor’s office, they would respond in a timely fashion. I think that speaks volumes about how they felt about Tom and about our chamber as an organization.”

Looking ahead, BROC

Donahue began his career in public service and will continue to serve. Starting in 1984 as a City of Rutland Alderman, Donahue went on to serve as president of the Rutland Board of Alderman. He worked in City Hall as the director of community development before leaving in 1995 to take a job for the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce. Now, 21 years later, he’s moving two blocks down the road to embark on a new challenge at BROC.

“This strong organization focuses on hope and opportunity for those of low income through increasing self-sufficiency of Vermonters, strengthening our communities, and eliminating the causes and symptoms of poverty,” Donahue wrote in the letter to Correll. “If we’re doing our job, we are helping people improve their situation,” he added in an interview.

Looking ahead, Donahue said that while he has ideas for new initiatives at BROC, he plans to start by listening to the priorities of the board of directors. They are also planning to embark on a new strategic plan, he said, which is great timing as through that process the highest priorities will surface.

There are five community action agencies throughout the state, each working to address specific regional needs. Donahue expects to work closely with the other CEOs and learn from them, too. “We’re all working for a bigger mission and vision,” he said. “Just like chambers, it’s not about competition between the organizations, but collaboration. It’s ‘one for all, all for one’ at least that’s how I’ve always chosen to see it,” he said.

In addition to being CEO of RRCC, Donahue also currently serves on the board of directors for the Board of Civil Authority, the Rutland Economic Development Corp. (REDC), the Creative Economy Steering Committee, the Rotary Club of Rutland, the Red Knights VT3 (firefighters) and Motorcycle Club Associate Member (Quartermaster) and is involved with PEGTV and Project VISION. He plans to continue most of these community services, with the exception of REDC, which he expects to step away from. Other organizations, like Project VISION, he expects to take a larger role, given the focus of BROC.

Looking ahead, RRCC

Donahue said the upcoming events at the chamber are pretty well planned out at this point and the chamber’s staff would be able to handle the day-to-day business in the interim before they find a replacement CEO.

Correll agreed. “The ladies in the office do a great job. The golf tournament, Winter in August event and our annual meeting at the end of October are pretty well mapped out,” he said, declining to define a timeline for the board to name a replacement. “It’s simply too early in the process,” he said. The board does hope to establish a search committee within the next week or so to begin the process.

Correll will serve as the president until his two-year term ends June 30, at which point Vice President Bill Ackerman will take over that role.

“We sincerely appreciate everything Tom has done for the chamber: his enthusiasm, professionalism, doing whatever needed to be done to get an initiative completed and all the collaborations,” Correll concluded. “We wish him the very best at BROC.”

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