It could not have been predicted that the Somerset County Business Partnership’s change in leadership would come about at exactly the same time that everything else in our world was about to change, but that’s exactly how it happened. Luckily, the new President and CEO, Chris Edwards, was ready to lead with flexibility, innovation, a well-grounded foundation and a focus on the long term.
Chris first joined the Partnership in 2013 as Director of Development, a newly created position that had him mapping out uncharted territory from the start. In this early role he was tasked with building relationships, growing revenue streams and cultivating the vibrant connections that are the Partnership’s hallmark.
In 2018, Chris was promoted to Vice President of Business Services, taking the lead in coordinating the Partnership’s many networking events, running special interest groups and helping businesses achieve a strong return on investment from their membership.
When former President and CEO Michael Kerwin announced his pending retirement, Chris was one of the applicants that went through a rigorous interview process. The experience Chris offered was unmatched. He knew the Partnership inside and out, and already had strong relationships with the members and a familiarity with the many sectors of Somerset County’s business community.
“My role here as President and CEO is to be able to bring community partners together and to lay out a vision for the future that’s compelling and that will make people want to jump on board,” says Chris.
It was mere days into his new position when Governor Murphy shut down all non-essential businesses in NJ. Business leaders suddenly faced having to balance safety and stability in an unprecedented time. True to its reputation, the Partnership quickly adapted to meet the changing needs of its members and unite the business community. In his previous role, Chris had already been laying the groundwork for the staff to be more mobile.
“We were ready for this,” he says of their transition to remote operations. “The organization just shifted overnight.”
Chris says the Partnership’s two-pronged response to the current crisis focuses on setting up a long-term recovery effort and continuing resource delivery to its members.
“It’s just different how we deliver those resources now,” says Chris.
The Partnership began offering webinars to help educate business owners on important new information. One webinar, What the Family First Act Means for You, detailing the new bill, had 180 participants registered within 48 hours of it being posted.
Chris explains, "The pandemic may have changed the way we do business in Somerset County, but it has not stopped us from doing business together.”
The Partnership worked with the Somerset County Freeholder Board to form an Economic Recovery Task Force to develop a plan to stabilize the local economy, especially in the hospitality and tourism industry, and identify the greatest needs in Somerset County’s recovery effort. They are also working to help direct state and federal resources back into the community and keep businesses informed of available financial relief opportunities.
“We’re going to take the lead as the Partnership always has in terms of making business owners aware of where there are opportunities,” says Chris. “My focus is on making our organization as nimble and as flexible as possible. We’re going to be out leading the community and we’re going to be as responsive to that current need as any organization can be.”
Chris along with the Partnership are doing their best to keep the business community #BridgewaterSTRONG.