Written by Maria Palacio, owner of Olson Florist, originally published in the Autumn 2019 issue of the 503 Magazine.


The Impact of Leadership Salem

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Leadership Salem, a program sponsored by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. This nine-month program meets once a month for a full day. To be away from your work for a whole business day seems daunting at first, but the benefits of the experience were life-changing. We met business owners, toured facilities, and saw a comprehensive view of what was happening in Salem, and what the Chamber was doing to support the businesses and community. I had no idea what had been going on behind so many buildings I drove by day after day. I still remember visiting Yamasa, the Waste Management Building on Brooks Street, The Tire Co., and visiting the Governer’s house.


I was awestruck when we met Gerry Frank in his beautiful office. Gerry, Dick Withnell, and Mike McLaran gave inspiring speeches of love for Salem and its business community that made a lifelong impression. I wanted to be a Chamber member, and be a part of that team.


Get Involved

I believe in civil involvement and volunteerism. One cannot succeed or feel completely satisfied, personally or professionally, without being actively involved in the community.


Reaching any goal will depend on my commitment to giving, and not just being a passive recipient. I must give pieces of myself to the community and organizations I serve. That’s why serving on the Board of Directors for the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce fits with my personal and professional goals; my goal is to grow my business. I want to provide employment to people in the city of Salem. I want to continue being a member of a thriving economy here. And that can’t happen without hard work, dedication, and persistence. I am on the Board to represent and protect not only my interests, but the interests of the business community, also.


Serving with a group of knowledgeable, experienced and dependable business people on the Board is a great opportunity for myself, and for being the voice for small businesses. They may not have the names of large established brand companies, but they all have similar goals of any good business: to provide excellent quality service to all customers, increase the number of jobs in our community, and increase profits.


“Don’t Give Up”

I draw inspiration from the generation who lived through the Great Depression. They taught me no matter what happens, don’t give up. To keep working, striving, staying strong and faithful, and believing we can make a difference for our individual businesses and the collective good of Salem and our country is a part of my identity as a business owner. Whenever I feel discouraged, I just remember that I don’t give up.


Salem’s Top Challenges

Our community faces many obstacles; in my opinion, the top three include workforce development, economic growth, and homelessness. We need to continue working together to ask the hard questions and consider all possible solutions. I have no doubt our collective business community, and the Salem community at large, knows the answers to these problems.


Come to the Table Together

Years ago, I attended a seminar where I heard the following story: a well-known toothpaste company was struggling and wanted to increase sales. It was late in the evening, offices were closed, and the janitor was cleaning the meeting room and heard the employees were wrapped up in heated arguments over ideas about what to do. After hours of discussion, the group had no viable answer. The janitor felt comfortable enough with the sales team and softly told them, “make the toothpaste opening bigger.”


I want the Chamber to continue to be an inclusive organization that advocates for businesses no matter how hard the battle. Businesses are busy delivering products and services and creating jobs for the community. We need a voice to be our advocate when we need help and to cheer us on when the going gets tough. I envision the Chamber increasing membership 10% each year as non-member businesses see and experience the benefits for Chamber members, and they’ll be saying, “I want to be a part of that!”

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