(l. to r.): Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce Board members Dan Dennison, Gary Saiz, and Nick Vuillemot, and Bernalillo Town Manager Lester Swindle sign documents to hire Vuillemot as Executive Director of the Chamber.
Painting by Joe Dowell
Bernalillo C of C hires executive director
On March 1 the board of directors of the Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce hired Nick Vuillemot to serve as its first executive director. Chamber president Gary Saiz said, "After talking with numerous chambers throughout New Mexico, we determined that we were one of the only chambers without a paid executive director. The limited time for board members and the limited number of member volunteers handcuffs chamber operations."
A plan for hiring a director had not yet been developed when chamber member Antoinette Silva met Vuillemot and his wife in the lobby of the Range Café. Vuillemot had just retired in Placitas from Florida, where he had worked for many years as the executive director of Big Bend Crime Stoppers and as a key fundraiser for the FSU Seminole Boosters.
Vuillemot met chamber members at a mix-and-mingle chamber function at Rose's Pottery House, where a painting by local wildlife artist Joe Dowell was being showcased. The painting of a congregation of New Mexico animals was inspired by Antoinette Silva's suggestion to illustrate the theme of the chamber’s next annual awards dinner, "Communities Coming Together in Harmony." A photograph reproduction will be used on the invitations to the banquet.
In the course of subsequent conversations, Vuillemot learned that the chamber had decided to look into hiring a director. Even though there was not yet a job description or funding for the position, he convinced the board that he was the man for the job, that he would submit a job description, and would work for a salary that would be paid retroactively once he had raised the funds. He set up his office in a long-empty room at the Bernalillo Town Hall which is being rented to the chamber for a dollar a year (with the tacit understanding that the chamber will benefit the town's economy ... ).
Vuillemot plans to raise $100,000 during his first year by applying for grants, a membership drive, and requesting funds from the town's lodgers tax, as well as from a golf tournament arranged by board member Dan Dennison at the Twin Warriors Golf course. Member dues have also been raised.
"If this doesn't work, they can fire me," said Vuillemot. "But I've never been fired, and I've always been a winner. Right now I'm just settling in and learning about what is unique about this area and culture."
Vuillemot says that members will enjoy many benefits, including a group health insurance plan, business coaching, more public visibility, networking, and many resources not available to an individual business. "About 80 percent of new businesses in Bernalillo fail during their first year. We'd like to get that number down to 40 to 50 percent. Small businesses need help to survive."