Valerie Rochon, President & Chief Collaborator, Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, Announces Plan to Retire
PORTSMOUTH—Valerie Rochon, the respected and dynamic leader of the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, has announced her plan to retire from the position of President and Chief Collaborator in late Spring 2021. Under Rochon’s leadership, Portsmouth and the Seacoast have earned national prominence as a top New England destination for tourism, business and as an economic powerhouse.
Upon hearing the news, N.H. Congressman Chris Pappas said, “For more than a decade Valerie Rochon has been at the forefront of making Portsmouth one of the top communities in New England to live, work, and play through her leadership at the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth. She has been a champion for the Seacoast, a powerful advocate for small businesses, and a wonderful friend, and I wish her a happy, healthy, and relaxing next chapter.”
Leading the Chamber’s multi-tiered missions of connecting, educating, advocating, marketing and supporting local businesses in the region, Rochon has achieved success in recognizing and balancing the needs of the Chamber’s business membership with the quality of life experienced by local residents. Acknowledging the role Rochon has played in managing those dynamics, Portsmouth City Manager Karen Conard has called Rochon “a collaborative powerhouse and a champion of Portsmouth and the Seacoast.”
According to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, “Valerie Rochon has been a dedicated advocate for N.H. small businesses and for the vitality of the entire seacoast region. Her leadership and tireless dedication positioned Greater Portsmouth to become the destination that it is today. It gives me great pleasure to recognize Valerie for her years of service as she plans for her much deserved retirement.”
Rochon joined the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce in 2010 as Tourism Manager. Previously she had been Executive Director of the Stowe (VT) Area Association, a 300+ member organization charged with marketing Stowe as a vacation destination. Rochon has been an active participant for more than 20 years with Discover New England, a marketing consortium of all six New England states. She brought tourism marketing experience, domestic and international programs and her extensive contacts to Portsmouth and the Seacoast. One of the her first accomplishments as Tourism Manager was to create an engaging and comprehensive website highlighting local hospitality services, attractions, amenities and details to encourage travel to Portsmouth and the Seacoast. The region has become one of New England’s leading tourism destinations.
Rochon has served on the New Hampshire Travel Council (NHTC) since 2012, working with tourism organizations and state-wide agencies to increase visitation to New Hampshire. The NHTC also provides educational opportunities to tourism leaders through the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
The Music Hall’s Director of Communications & Community Engagement, and Chair of the Chamber Board, Monte Bohanan said, “Valerie has demonstrated tremendous leadership in navigating the treacherous waters of the Great Recession, a re-imagining of the Chamber organization, and facing the pandemic immediately and passionately on behalf of the community. She has the vision and the listening skills to understand the challenges facing individual members, whole industries and our region. Rochon not only listens, she knows how to act quickly by working together with members, non-members, city hall and state government.”
When The New York Times visited Portsmouth under Rochon’s leadership, it declared “Portsmouth is blessed with an absurd selection of restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlors to ponder.” National Geographic described Portsmouth as “one of the world’s best historic places.” Closer to home, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and Boston Magazine each recognized Portsmouth as a “worth the drive” destination, with charm, history and a lively restaurant scene.
Rochon’s vision for Portsmouth went beyond tourism, and in 2016 she was named Chamber President. One of her first initiatives was to launch an intensive examination of the Chamber’s mission and how best to support its membership’s needs.
“It was important to each member of our fantastic Chamber team that we identify what the membership needed to better succeed in business, and then deliver the tools and support” said Rochon. Her team led a comprehensive series of industry roundtables and surveys which resulted in rebranding to “The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth,” crystalizing the Chamber’s priorities. The rebranding was announced during the Chamber’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in 2017, when Rochon shared her vision, “As we enter our 101st year of operation, our goal at the Chamber is to create more initiatives supporting the business community than ever before! As Portsmouth gains national prominence as a top New England destination to live, work, and play, this is an extraordinary time to be doing business in the Greater Portsmouth area.”
During her tenure, Rochon and her team created and supported several signature events for the city, including Restaurant Week Portsmouth & the Seacoast, Hit The Decks, Fire & Ice, Shop Local and more, each boosting off-season revenues for local businesses. Equally important were the collaborative one-on-one partnerships Rochon initiated among Chamber members with city departments. “Valerie is innovative, adaptable and quick to recognize and seize opportunities,” said Board Chair Bohanan. “She is strong in her core beliefs of dealing honestly and fairly with everyone, having all voices heard and making sure that everyone has a seat at the table.”
Ever the collaborator, Rochon and her Chamber team created a series of events aimed to connecting businesses with one another and with city agencies. A typical work week would find the team hosting Lunch & Learn programming, Quarterly Speaker Series, Industry Roundtables, Morning Meet-Up networking events, Monthly eBrews, Candidate Forums and more. Rochon is ever-present, putting people together, and to work. “Valerie leads one of the largest and most diverse chambers of commerce in the state, serving as a role model for other chamber executives, including me,” said Margaret Joyce, President, Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce.
When the pandemic hit, Rochon sprung into action, sharing that “this is new territory for all of us, changing hourly. Let’s communicate as we navigate through this crisis together.” There was much to learn and process from local and national leaders of business, government and medicine. With her team working remotely, Rochon manned the Chamber’s office, keeping it open for local businesses who needed import/export documents and forms signed and processed in person; running emergency meetings in collaboration with city agencies and businesses; and counseling Chamber members and non-members on COVID guidelines. “Valerie is the first to pitch in, the last to leave, the embodiment of positivity, a tireless and savvy cheerleader for every team she supports,” said Nancy Carmer, Portsmouth’s Economic Development Manager.
Rochon was invited to join the Citizen Response Task Force (CRTF) created by the Portsmouth City Council “to help the City quickly and safely respond to the Governor’s guidelines for reopening in Portsmouth.” As one of the CRTF essential workers, Rochon met with city staff and business members in the city streets, listening and identifying what immediate assistance was needed; such as helping streamline the process for opening outdoor restaurant spaces and securing curbside pickup sites for businesses. Rochon and her team used every resource and connection they could to help businesses reopen and practice #SeacoastSafe, providing key information about financial resources, grant opportunities, and resiliency training; while at the same time sourcing items like PPE, digital thermometers, blankets and gas heaters. She launched a weekly Chamber Chat LIVE Broadcast on Zoom, inviting guests from NH Business & Economic Affairs, NH Dept of Health and Human Services, UNH Diversity and Seacoast Black Lives Matter, the Small Business Development Center, Congressman Pappas, representatives from Sen. Shaheen’s office, and City of Portsmouth departments.
“My goal has always been to bring the people together who have questions and those who could provide answers. Particularly during this pandemic we had an immediate need to move the dial forward every minute of every day for our local businesses,” said Rochon.
Rochon led the region’s Seacoast Chamber Alliance (SCA) during the pandemic, helping secure $300,000 in CARES Act funding to support the local businesses in Portsmouth, Hampton, Dover, Exeter, Rochester and Somersworth. She organized the SCA’s six regional chambers into committees targeting Workforce Development, Economic Recovery, B2B Communication, Seacoast Safe Programming, a Seacoast-wide tourism campaign and the new website, www.visitseacoastnh.com.
“Valerie is approachable, willing to defend something she believes in, and has a can-do personality in helping others,” said Lori Harnois, Director, Division of Travel and Tourism Development, N.H. Dept of Business and Economic Affairs. The Seacoast Chamber Collaborative was successful in implementing quick and targeted initiatives to benefit local businesses in the winter months of the pandemic.
Collaboration, communication and community service are the cornerstones of Rochon’s work ethic. Be it a well-placed phone call or introduction, she brings the city and local businesses together every day. A tireless advocate for women, Rochon will continue to serve on the Advisory Board of Accelerate Women in Leadership in Hospitality. Plus, as founder and board member of the Stowe Weekend of Hope, an annual educational event for cancer survivors and their families, now in its 21st year, she looks forward to continuing to make a difference in support of these extraordinary warriors.
“Although I will miss the daily interaction I have with so many people here in our business communities, I really am only a phone call away,” said Rochon. “I so look forward to life beyond Zoom! Let’s be clear, this is retirement with a ‘small r’ and not a capital ‘R’!! I look forward to spending more time with my family and to discovering impactful ways to stay involved with this community.”
The Chamber Board of Directors has created a search committee to determine the next president of the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth.