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Tracey Dello Stritto: Building Community at the Ontario County Chamber of Commerce

Tracey Dello Stritto is a little amazed that she is the new president and CEO of the Ontario County Chamber of Commerce. After all, how often do you find your dream job in the community you love that combines the best aspects of a career spent working with nonprofit and for-profit organizations?

It’s a position that she feels confident handling, but it also at times pushes her a bit out of her comfort zone. She takes great pride in the fact that she has continuously operated as a behind-the-scenes leader. Now, she is front and center as a face of business growth in the Finger Lakes Region.

“That’s a challenge. Being in the background feels natural, but I represent an important organization requiring visibility. I want to shine a light on our members and their work. They’re doing the hard work, and we’re just here to lift them up.”

Her introduction to becoming a public figure happened during her first week on the job last October when she emceed the ATHENA Leadership Awards with Ginny Ryan, former co-anchor of Channel 13 news and current director of community engagement at Canandaigua National Bank. “I was at a mixer afterward, and someone asked if I had gone to the ceremony. I had been up on stage talking almost the entire night. I have a perfect way of people forgetting who I am. Still, hopefully, they won’t forget my work,” she jokes.

Chamber Board Chair Kari Buch, who is the Regional Director of the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, says people are noticing Tracey’s impact. “From day one on the job, Tracey has shown herself to be a collaborator and a champion for the greater Canandaigua community and Ontario County. Her passion and enthusiasm are contagious. As a board and as a Chamber, we are energized by the opportunities we have under Tracey’s leadership to deliver more value to our members and be an even stronger partner in the success of our businesses and our county.”

A New Way to Make a Difference

The work she did at the Partnership for Ontario County caught the Chamber board’s eye when they were searching for a new CEO after Ethan Fogg left in June 2023. Tracey was in her fifth year as the Partnership for Ontario County executive director. Their mission is creating, supporting, and administering alliances to cultivate positive social change.

There, she helped take the organization to new growth with programs such as supporting mental health for youth and families. “My job was to offer our staff of 14 people what they needed to make it happen. I love supporting teams to make a difference and impact Ontario County. I felt I could bring those skills to the Chamber.”

She was particularly drawn to the fact that at the Chamber, she helps businesses in a way that leads to a stronger community for everyone. “The Chamber is a nonprofit that supports for-profit industries, enabling successful businesses to support nonprofits. Fundamentally, both sectors reflect what I have done in my private life and professional career – building community.”

Building a Community in the Finger Lakes

Tracey was born and raised in Gorham, a farming community in Ontario County. She went to Clarks Summit University, in Pennsylvania, where she received her bachelor’s degree in counseling. She left for the Midwest and held various positions working for nonprofits. She was not planning on returning to the Finger Lakes.

One weekend, she and a friend decided to go to a lake to relax but realized the nearest one was manmade and three hours away. “My brain just exploded. My experience was growing up in a place where the question was, ‘What lake are we hanging out at today?’ At that moment, I realized how wonderful and special the Finger Lakes are. So I came back.”

Because her nonprofit work at that point was highly stressful, she decided to take a break and change jobs. She started working in the wine and hospitality industry. She held management, marketing, and customer service roles at Glenora Wine Cellars, New York Wine & Culinary Center, Rooster Hill Vineyards, Red Jacket Orchards, and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards.

“I gained a business perspective. I saw these family-owned companies put so much effort into their work. And it was wonderful to see the tourism aspect and how people were coming to our area to enjoy what we offer.”

Tracey also kept her finger in the nonprofit world with leadership roles, including serving as executive director of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, program manager at Dove Harbor, a transitional housing facility for women and children, and program director at the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester.

While building her dual career in businesses and nonprofits, she married and has two young sons. Her husband, Doug, is an Auburn native and director of parks and trails for Cayuga County. As a working parent, she appreciates that her new position allows flexibility. “I feel privileged to have that because many working parents don’t have that option. I am very grateful that the Chamber considers flexibility and work-life balance important values.”

Building a Community with the Chamber

Tracey’s variety of work experiences solidified a view about community that she has always held. “It’s imperative people feel welcome and are part of something. They will not be involved if they don’t feel that. Community is number one, which can be internal with a team or in our work.”

Her focus now is to build inclusion at the Chamber by getting to know business owners. That means focusing on a work plan for 2024 that centers on recruitment, retention, and providing value. She asks questions to ensure her organization is bringing value, such as: How can we support you? What can we do to propel your business forward?

“We are looking at what would be helpful to our members. Do we need more things that are virtual? Do we need more specific industry-type events? What forums will give people a platform to build their business? The Chamber has a lot of members with 20 or fewer employees. What are their needs? How do we celebrate the achievements of all our members?”

Adding and retaining members is essential for an influential Chamber. Tracey is focused on the best ways to accomplish that. She has recently hired a director of member relations and communications who brings a fresh perspective on member engagement. She is also analyzing data from a recent member survey to gather insights.

She is also focused on execution. “We can say all day long that we hear what our members need. But we need to execute — whether it is providing HR support, more communications, or regional exposure. Execution is key, and that’s where the value comes. At the end of my first year, I would love to say that we retained our members, added new members, and brought value in different ways. I would love for our members to feel so proud that they’re with the Chamber, excited about where we’re going, feel like they belong, and want to contribute to our success and that of their fellow members.”

Building Community Through Collaboration

In her new position and past work, she is impressed with the consistent collaboration among businesses and nonprofit organizations in Ontario County and the Finger Lakes Region. “A lot of our larger businesses want to give back. They see it as a value to their community. My goal is to tap those larger industries and businesses so they can support smaller ones that may need help. It’s all about community and collaboration.”

In her experience, Tracey has found that going farther means going together. Through collaboration with various stakeholders, including local municipalities, elected officials, tourism partners, workforce development agencies, economic development organizations, and other area Chambers, she knows that partnerships are crucial for elevating a region’s profile and fostering sustainable growth. “Whether we are advocating for infrastructure needs that support economic development or promoting career pathways for emerging industries, the Chamber can assist these stakeholders as a convener of people and ideas for regional development.”

She firmly believes that most people want to be part of the rising tide. “If we’re all successful, we will make a mark and move things forward. I’ve seen so many people, organizations and businesses in Ontario County come together to support and do whatever needs to be done.”

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