Interview with Cassandra Vanhooser, Talbot County Department of Economic Development and Tourism
EEDC: For the past few weeks, your organization has been holding bi-weekly private sector conference calls, helping businesses with information and resources during this crisis. How did the idea for this come about?
Cassandra Vanhooser: Credit goes to Clay Stamp, our Director of Emergency Services, I’m part of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) team, and we had these operational calls already in place with social services agencies and County departments. When we recognized early on that this crisis was going to impact businesses, as well as public health, we realized people are hungry for information: what this virus may do and how it’s affecting our communities. Recognizing that, Clay asked if I would do a private sector call?
EEDC: How do you select your panel of experts?
Cassandra Vanhooser: I have built my career on interviewing people—Jimmy Carter, Hank Aaron, Hoda Kotb, and hundreds of others. These EOC private-sector calls have been a natural transition for me. The audience may be smaller, but it no less important!
I think, ‘what would I want to hear?’ And I try to anticipate the issues that are coming and I program them just like it was a radio show. We have between 60-90 people on every call. People want to hear from the health officer (Dr. Wadley) and this is an opportunity for the private sector to hear directly from her and ask questions. It’s an opportunity to listen to Clay and other businesses. It’s trying to add value and get direct conversations with people who have information that would be valuable or helpful to the business community.
EEDC: There has been an enormous amount of information on these calls, any that come to mind?
Cassandra Vanhooser: We have so much talent in this community, and I have drawn and called on those people, asking them to volunteer their time to do this.
One example: the loan aid programs are complicated and confusing, and the rules change. We are sort of standing on shifting sand with this thing. And so, every time there’s a change or new information, then we have a financial expert on the call to talk about it. We’ve had the President and CEO of Shore United Bank, Scott Beatty, and his team on to discuss the changes. I recently got an email from someone that said, ‘I got PPP because you had them on this call, and I understood what to do.’
Rich Tripp has been a valuable resource for insurance. You don’t think about the insurance implications, but if you’re changing the way you do business, there are things to consider in terms of liability or coverage. You need to make sure your coverage on your insurance is correct.
I’m very excited about our call on Tuesday (May 19). We have the CEO of iFrog (KT Tomatore) to talk about marketing, along with Brett Durham who’s their chief operating officer. So, you’ve got the two top minds in digital marketing going to talk about it for free to the public.
EEDC: Are you planning to continue with these calls?
Cassandra Vanhooser: So that’s one of the things that Clay and I discussed: how do we keep this going and keep it valuable to the community and how should it be restructured. We probably won’t do it as frequently as we do now since people are going to be getting back to work. So, we’re considering a podcast and trying to figure out what that will look like and what the topics would be.
The Avalon Foundation is going to work with us on that. They’ve been terrific partners in all of this. With the shift to a podcast, if you miss the 12 o’clock meeting, you can then listen to it later.
EEDC: What do you think the message your guests, in particular, Dr. Wadley, is giving about the safe re-opening of Easton/Talbot County?
Cassandra Vanhooser: Safety and health are the main concerns, of course. For example, in our messaging for tourism, we shifted from Escape to Talbot County to When it’s Safe to Travel, We’ll Be Here for You. So, what I want to know from the health officer, number one, is how do I keep myself safe and healthy? What’s my responsibility in this? Take the mask issue. None of us like to wear them, and as it gets hotter, we’re going to like it even less. But, I know that there are people out there who are compromised and have health issues; even if they’re perfectly healthy and I make them sick, that would be a terrible thing.
Dr. Wadley is excellent at drilling it down and sharing that message. And at the end of the day, it’s what you do to keep yourself safe, that’s going to matter. Because I can’t control other people, I can only control myself. She gives a science-based approach, and I think she’s just been terrific and a wonderful resource to have in our community.
EEDC: Do you see anything positive emerging from what we’ve been experiencing here in Talbot County?
Cassandra Vanhooser: One of the things that I really think has come from this is that we have come together as a community, and all of our disparate parts have pulled together toward a common goal. And that common goal is to keep Talbot County safe and healthy and moving forward. And economic prosperity or economic stability is what we’re working on through economic development.
When I was a travel writer at Southern Living Magazine, I covered communities like ours all over the world, and you come to a place like Easton, or you discover a Talbot County and you go ‘wow, what makes this place work, what makes this place special?’ And it’s the economic base that we have here that define who we are. When you understand that, you realize the power of the business community here.
I had a real ‘aha’ moment at our business appreciation breakfast a few years ago. I was working the door, greeting people when they came in. And so many people that I knew or met were the business leaders of this community, and I thought, there’s the power source. So, what we’re doing for the business community as part of this recovery is so important. We’re trying to keep our power source viable.
EEDC: What do you see is the role of Economic Development and Tourism during this time?
Cassandra Vanhooser: We are here to be a resource and to be a conduit to resources for businesses. And so I would encourage people to call on me my team and all my partners because we are so much better together. If I don’t know the answer, Tracy (Ward) will know, or Ross (Benincasa) will know or Kim Weller will, or Judy Bixler will know the answer. And the answer may be: how to start a business.
I had a call yesterday from somebody who wanted to start a business in the middle of all this. That’s a wonderful thing! We’ve got business owners here trying to restructure their business so that they can get over this hurdle. And so, we want to help those people find the resources they need to make that happen. So, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll get busy and try to find the answer, because we have many, many partners, that can help.
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Code: 471 585 551