New Chamber director welcomed in Warrenton

Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 11/24/21

The Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce is welcoming a new executive director, following the retirement of longtime executive Jan Olearnick. The director serves as the Chamber’s chief organizer, …

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New Chamber director welcomed in Warrenton

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The Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce is welcoming a new executive director, following the retirement of longtime executive Jan Olearnick. The director serves as the Chamber’s chief organizer, event planner and marketing agent.

Stephanie Thomas of Jonesburg was appointed to the leadership role by the Chamber’s board of directors in late October. She comes to the Chamber after a career in food service management, which Thomas said includes helping to open the Wendy’s restaurant in Warrenton and then working as a district manager for the fast food chain. She most recently held a position with a family-owned restaurant equipment supplier in St. Charles.

Thomas’s varied experiences seeing the different sides of her industry — from front-line customer service to higher-level logistics — was part of what made her an appealing choice for the Chamber of Commerce, said Chamber Board Vice President Katie Joyce.

“We like her manager experience and the fact that she was managing a variety of stores. We equated that to managing the Chamber and our business, but also reaching out to all the businesses in our community,” Joyce noted. “We thought her experience would translate well to being the face of the Chamber.”

But that professional experience isn’t the only quality a Chamber director needs. President Samantha Richardson said they also needed someone who understands and has enthusiasm for the Chamber of Commerce’s core mission: To build a supportive community among Warrenton-area business owners, and through that community benefit the entire area as a whole.

Thomas said building community is a driving motivation for what she wants to do, both personally and professionally. In her spare time, she said she volunteers for the Jonesburg Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization and has helped with other volunteer groups.

In her new position, Thomas commented that she hopes to help restore the economic vitality to Warrenton that she saw when she first moved to the area 18 years ago.

“When you live in a place, you want to make it better for yourself and everyone else. Being involved in those organizations and being involved in the Chamber helps grow the community that you live and work in,” Thomas said.

Starting out, Thomas said she’s focused on the pragmatic steps of getting integrated with the Chamber and building good connections with its membership. She noted that the board of directors has set of goal of rebuilding membership engagement, which plummeted during the COVID pandemic. That engagement will only come through direct outreach, taking the time to visit with people and get to know them, Thomas said. That will also be the avenue to growing membership, which Thomas said includes about 200 member organizations.

Going into next year with a new Chamber director and fresh perspective, Richardson and Joyce said the board hopes to begin developing plans for increased networking and promotional opportunities for member businesses. Long-term, they said they want to develop plans to use revenue from the Warrenton License Office, which the Chamber manages, to establish a central office for the Chamber that can also serve as a small business incubator, a proposal that Olearnick supported and that Thomas would have a key role in executing.

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