TUPPER LAKE - After a year as events coordinator for the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Clement is stepping down.
Clement's contract with the town and village expired last month. She has tentatively been working on a month-by-month basis, but she has decided not to seek a renewal of the contract. She told the Enterprise Thursday that the decision was made after long, careful consideration.
"The decision was definitely a difficult one to make, especially right now," Clement said. "I'm extremely excited about the progress the chamber of commerce has made over the past year. The door is open and things are lined up for making Tupper Lake a viable tourism destination. Their vision is very clear right now."
Michelle Clement, events coordinator for the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce, speaks to the Tupper Lake village board in September.
(Enterprise photo — Shaun Kittle)
Clement came on as events coordinator last year and immediately began evaluating how the chamber could use its limited resources to move Tupper Lake forward. She quickly devised a plan that included a focus on refining bigger events and marketing the natural amenities of the region.
"Through that process, we initiated a dialogue between the town, the village and the chamber about the issue and identifying that we need to come up with a formula that works," Clement said. "I think they've made great strides, especially in the last couple of months."
Part of that conversation was the chamber's recommendation that the town and village collaboratively hire an outside destination marketing organization to market Tupper Lake. Both boards unanimously approved a draft request for proposals last month and are accepting bids from those organizations.
The bidding is open to anyone, but Clement and chamber President Adam Boudreau have repeatedly said they favor the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism because of the destination planning it has done throughout the region.
"After a lot of our research and a lot of our conversations, we strongly recommended ROOST as the organization that the town and the village should contract with," Clement said. "I think it just makes sense, and it's natural. It's our local DMO (destination marketing organization), and I think there's a lot of value there."
After ROOST expressed interest in possibly hiring someone like Clement to be its on-the-ground person in Tupper Lake, Clement said rumors began to swirl.
"With that offer out there, there was some concern that I was then pushing ROOST for my own personal interests, and that is 100 percent not the case," Clement said. "If that would be a roadblock that would hold things up, than I want to make sure it's clear that that's not my intention with pushing Tupper Lake to consider contracting with ROOST. I wanted to step aside and let them make that decision based on the research, based on the facts and based on the potential."
Clement noted that Tupper Lake is surrounded by municipalities that have contracted with ROOST, such as Saranac Lake, Hamilton County and the group's home county, Essex.
"We are like the one little piece of the puzzle that's missing," Clement said. "The visual picture sells it better than just thinking about it, and it also explains why I see such value in this concept."
Clement said she'd like to eventually move into a position doing what she's doing now - marketing the area - and let the chamber serve its role as a provider of services and training programs to its member businesses. Before she leaves, Clement said she will finish up some large projects she's involved with, like the printing a Tupper Lake recreation guide and organizing upcoming events.
"I need to make room for the chamber to start moving forward with their new goals and not slow that down," Clement said. "They've got some great momentum right now, and I'm really supportive of that. Besides that, there's that same message that Adam and I keep talking about. The chamber was struggling, and we're trying to do too many things at once. The result of that is I'm exhausted. I need to take care of myself as well."
Boudreau said Clement's announcement was not a surprise.
"Essentially it all stems to the wide array of responsibilities that position has," Boudreau said. "You can even look back to Faith McClelland lasting only a year. I think it points us to the change that we're trying to push through. That position has too much on its plate. It's responsible for all the marketing, events coordinating, regional ties, and it tires people out. It exhausts them, and eventually they end up leaving."
Clement's departure actually opens up a new door for the chamber. With the events coordinator position vacant, it places emphasis on the need for the town and village to hire a destination marketing organization. It also allows the chamber to begin shifting its focus back to its members, a change Boudreau has been moving toward since he began the role of chamber president this year.
"We're looking at it as a positive thing," Boudreau said. "Essentially what we've said is, we're already starting our transition regardless of what anybody else does. We clearly see the role the chamber needs to take, and we're going to continue transitioning into that role."
Boudreau said the chamber is willing to give up its public funding if the town and village boards are willing to hire a destination marketing organization to steer Tupper Lake's future.
In lieu of the events coordinator position, Boudreau said the chamber would instead like to hire a part-time executive director, a position it could fund by itself. That person would be responsible for keeping up with the chamber's four major events: the Brew-Ski, the Tinman, OkTupperfest and the Warrior Run.
"We no longer feel that we should be answering for the town or to the town," Boudreau said. "If we can get into the position where we're self-sufficient, it really puts the onus on the municipality to say, 'Hey, we need to look at how we can market ourselves and how we can promote tourism.'"
The transition doesn't leave the town and village high and dry. Boudreau said the chamber would still like to be a part of any conversations involving the marketing or promotion of Tupper Lake. He suggested the town and village both use the money for Clement's position to pay for hiring a destination marketing organization. The town contributed $20,000, and the village contributed $15,000 to the position annually.
"That's a huge piece of making that marketing process happen," Boudreau said. "It also sets us apart and makes us more independent, which we think is a necessity because we should be a separate organization from a government entity. It also gives us a little more private-sector perspective and allows us to move a little more freely."
Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield and village Mayor Paul Maroun could not immediately be reached to comment on Clement's departure.
Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.