The Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director is no stranger to the community.
Cortney Strohacker helped establish Crossroads Community Church in Genoa, and has worked for the past five years as an administrative assistant at the church. A native of nearby Bartlett, she feels right at home in Genoa.
“Genoa is just a genuine, authentic community,” she said.
Strohacker is the only employee of the chamber. She is looking forward to building on the sucesses of her predecessor.
Strohacker sat down with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg in her new office last week to discuss her first weeks on the job and her long-term plans for the chamber.
MidWeek: When did you officially start your new job as executive director?
Cortney Strohacker: My official start day was (Dec. 2), and I was kind of put right in the hot seat, which is good. I feel like now we’re doing a little back-tracking trying to get caught up on my actual job, because last week was just focused on Celebrate the Season and getting that all figured out. The nice part is that was already in place - the committee, the board, and Kris (Mulso, former executive director of the chamber) had pretty much everything lined up, and I just had to work on the last-minute details, which was actually a great way for me to come in because I got to meet people like Rich Gentile over at public works, and I talked to Paul at the park district, and I worked with Genoa Main Street. It was kind of a crazy start but it was a good way for me to familiarize myself with everyone. I had an economic planning and development meeting already with Joe Misurelli and the mayor.
MW: What do you have planned for this week?
CS: We have our chamber Christmas party tomorrow night, so I have been getting ready for that, and then just really trying to familiarize myself with the job since Kris has started her new job and she’s not able to be here, but we have been doing a lot of texting and phone calls back and forth. It’s silly things. I had someone come in to become a member and I said, “I guess I need to figure out what I need to do to do that.” I’m looking forward to next week with no events, to focus on what my role is and figuring out what the chamber’s role is in the community, and meeting all the members. So far the members have been great.
MW: I hope that new member was understanding of your situation.
CS: She said “no problem.” ...People knew we were in a transition, and on top of that the office was closed for two weeks so when I did come in, there was a pile of mail and all these checks and I had to figure out where everything goes. The big thing on my first day was figuring out how to change the voice mail message. Our president, Jim Wilson, has been here every day making sure I’m not going crazy, and our old president, Doug Guard, came in to help me do some things with QuickBooks.
MW: Is getting and maintaining members at the top of your list of priorities?
CS: I think getting to know all of my members, first of all, is a big thing. No one, especially in a small town, likes change and it kind of freaks everyone out. Kris was really active and she grew the chamber from 99 (members) to 144 in two years, so I think there’s a nervousness with a new person. Just making sure everyone knows me, and I know them, is important right now.
...Being a member of the chamber at Crossroads, I know we didn’t use it (the membership) fully, and we weren’t aware of how many benefits the chamber really had. So now on this side of things, I can see where communication can be helpful. We could have utilized some of the free things that the chamber offers. ...Collaborating with Main Street is important too. Kris was a key player in Explore Genoa, which is modeled after Discover Sycamore. I think there is confusion there about who does what. Who does the duck race? And the parade? We not only want to distinguish our roles, but to collaborate together more. That’s one of the things that’s on the mayor’s agenda for January. One thing we want to do is get the sound system back up in downtown Genoa. The Christmas parade was a little quiet this year because there was no music. They (Genoa Main Street) have offered to do the wiring if we do the speakers.
MW: Are you still working at the church?
CS: They haven’t found anyone to replace me at the church yet, so I’m sort of doing that job too. They’re taking over for me and finding someone else to hire, but I’m trying to leave that really well so that has been kind of crazy. But my family has been supportive. My son and daughter came in and surprised me Friday night. They were gone hunting for the weekend but they came in to surprise me for my first event to be supportive. My husband and son carried the banner (in the parade) and I walked behind them in the parade. They’re very supportive. They know the first couple of months are going to be crazy and that they’ll have to pitch in.
MW: What role did you have at the church?
CS: I was the administrative assistant. Actually, my husband and I asked Crossroads to launch a campus here five years ago, so we were part of the launch team. We used to meet in the basement of Resource Bank and just watch a message online. Then we hired a pastor, and we met at Genoa Middle School for about nine months, and one of my goals was to secure our own location. We secured a location on 72 at Annie Glidden Road. At the time I was a paraprofessional at North Grove School, but I wanted the church to succeed, so I went there even though it was less money because we love this community and we wanted to see it (Crossroads Church) here because we know what it did for our family, and how involved our kids were. We didn’t want to replace any of the churches here - we have a ton of great churches here - we just wanted to have a different experience. ...When I started there I didn’t know how to use Publisher or Constant Contact, but when I came here I see how those things totally prepared me to come here.
MW: What brought you to Genoa?
CS: I was finishing my schooling at NIU and my husband worked out of Bartlett. He’s actually from the country in Dakota, Ill., up by Ridott, so this was our compromise. He’s a major country boy so he didn’t want to live in Bartlett, so I said let’s compromise and find something between Bartlett and NIU. I knew Genoa was a cute little town; we used to go to the golf course here when I was growing up. We found an old one-room school house and re-did it and lived there for eight years, and then moved to the house next door, which moved us from Genoa to Sycamore. We didn’t even realize it. We moved one summer and all of a sudden we were getting paperwork for my daughter to attend Sycamore schools. Literally our back yard is where the school district switches. Now we’re grateful because it’s so nice for them. We go to church here and school there so we feel like we’re bi-communal.
MW: This sounds like a good fit for you.
CS: I think so. The event planning, my skill set, I think I’m a natural encourager. I love to be encouraging to other people. I like to be the support for someone else and not for things to be about me. I think this is a really good fit for that because (with this job) it’s not about us in the chamber here, it’s about building up these other businesses and the rest of the community.