Succeeding in business is all about connections,” entrepreneur extraordinaire Richard Branson has said. This certainly is true for Deborah Milone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce.
Part of the chamber since 1992, Milone was the chairman of the board of directors from 2005 to 2007, so when the executive director’s job opened in 2010, she saw it as a great opportunity.
“I’ve always had a passion for the chambers and what they do for the community.” Milone has years of experience in the River towns. Her résumé includes vice president of marketing for The Guide and district sales manager at Yellowbook. “I have a huge database of contacts. I connect. I know where to get the answers.”
The Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce is a community resource that provides services to businesses, residents and tourists. Most of the businesses are located in Buchanan, Croton-on-Hudson, Cortlandt Manor, Peekskill and Putnam Valley. The 450 members range from small family-run businesses like Arthur Weeks and Son Jewelers in Peekskill to Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which employs more than 1,200. With its office in the heart of historic downtown Peekskill, well known for its Artists’ District, the chamber also serves as a regional tourism information center for the thousands of visitors who come to the Hudson Valley each year.
“We wear a lot of hats. I sometimes say we are like Google. People call us for the answers like they would search on the Internet.”
Milone acknowledges that the economy is still sluggish and that people are careful about spending on luxuries. “Businesses need to be more creative about finding more customers. They need an Internet presence and marketing is important.” That’s something the chamber can help with. It has monthly networking breakfasts for members and meetings after hours for those who can’t make the morning meetings. “We offer seminars and workshops in an attempt to help our businesses be more successful. Networking is important for building relationships. People build trust and comfort levels. My personal business needs have been met by people I have met through networking.”
“Opening Opportunities” is the mantra for this dynamic chamber, which distributes a membership directory to 10,000 homes, held a Consumer Expo with more than 100 vendors in May and sponsored the Hudson Valley Gateway Tommy Bertoline Scholarship Golf Outing at Mahopac Golf Club in late summer.
Milone takes pride in one of the groups that sets them apart from other chambers: “We have a strong Latino committee in our chamber. …We try to serve the needs of the Latino community and bring together the Latino and non-Latino businesses in our community.”
The key to success for entrepreneurs, she says, is to have a plan. “There are a variety of resources available to people who want to start a business that are free,” she adds, including the Small Business Association, the Westchester County Office of Economic Development and the New York Business Development Corp.
Next year, the chamber will celebrate its 100th anniversary. There are many special events and activities planned, including a gala on Jan. 24. “We will be recognizing 20 businesses and organizations that have been in existence for 100 years or more.”
As the chamber looks to its next century, Milone says she could not have found a better job than being at its helm. “I love what I do and have some fun at it as well.”
The Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce is at 1 S. Division St., Peekskill. For more, call 914-737-3600 or visit hvgatewaychamber.com.