New South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce director, Chrissy Marquardt, is a self-professed island girl from Jamaica living on a farm in Scappoose. She comes to the chamber after running her own design and consulting business, Scappoose Web Design, for the past seven years.
“I’m very passionate about small business,” Marquardt said. She speaks quickly and punctuates her sentences with enthusiasm. “I believe that an economy changes and progresses through small business and not necessarily the government.”
Chamber board director Hope Wirta said Marquardt was tapped for the position following previous director Simon Date’s exit because she showed up to the interview and basically told them what direction they needed to take.
“We chose her because when we interviewed her, she wasn’t just looking for a job. She already understood, and she was already kind of doing the job in her own capacity,” Wirta said. “She was connected with everybody in the community. She was all about the chamber.”
Marquardt said she joined the chamber when it was still under the direction of another director, prior to Date, but at that time she wasn’t getting out of it what she needed as a small business owner. It wasn’t until Date took over, she said, that she could really see the momentum and opportunity.
Date was able to connect her to the networking relationships she needed to help her business flourish, and when he left, she said she didn’t want to see the organization lose the steam that had been created. Especially when she’d already become so involved. It was Marquardt who helped choose many of the paint colors in the chamber’s recent redesign, and her husband built one of the tables.
“I don’t even know how many hours of my time I spent up here to help. I’d come in on a Saturday with my family to pick up furniture. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t getting paid to do it at the time. I just wanted to see this venture be successful,” Marquardt said.
Date encouraged her to apply, but she did notice as she told people what she’d be up to that there were still a lot of people who didn’t know what the chamber actually provided.
“I’m like, okay, we’ve got to work on this, people,” Marquardt said. “I see what other areas are doing and I believe there is so much potential in this area. There’s a lot of things that we’re not tapping into as far as availability of resources.”
Marquardt’s first official day was Monday, August 12, and she jumped right into helping plan one of the chamber’s signature events – Wings & Wheels.
“It was great. It was definitely a learning experience and I definitely realized how much goes into planning that event, and I’m very eager to be a lot more involved in the process next year,” she said.
She said the estimated number of visitors came in at approximately 1,700, which was 200 more than what they’d estimated from last year, and that’s not including vendors or half-marathon runners. With those people included, they estimate a total of 4,000 people come through the event.
“It’s such a great event for local friends and family and it’s a free event and it was wonderful,” she said. “We definitely had a successful event and we look forward to next year.”
Therein lies one of the promises Marquardt has made to the community within her new position – she’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Marquardt said she knew the turnover for directors at the chamber hadn’t benefited the organizations, and she hopes to stay on for several years to see the enterprise grow.
Marquardt told her parents at just 10 years old that she wanted to go to school in the United States. “Alright,” they said. “Get good grades.” And so she did. Marquardt came to the United States on an academic scholarship at 17 years old and attended the University of Portland, graduating in 2004 with a degree in finance and Spanish.
She studied abroad in Spain during her time in university and became fluent in Spanish. However, she said during her time attending school, she fell in love with Oregon.
“You have to understand, most Jamaicans, when they leave Jamaica, they go to Florida or New York or Canada,” she said. “I am the weird anomaly that decided to go 3,000 miles away on the other side of the United States. People were like, ‘Where’s Oregon? Like, above California?’ Everyone thought I was crazy.”
After graduation, she met her husband, who was from Scappoose. She had to go back home to procure a fiancé visa and came back to the States in 2006 to get married. She worked in Portland for five years in retail banking before moving to Columbia County in 2010 when she became pregnant with her first son to be close to her in-laws.
She continued working in banking until after she had her second son, and said she had a change in priorities.
“After having two children, I had to kind of make a decision whether I wanted to have a wonderful career in banking and kind of ignore my children because there really wasn’t a work/life balance with having to commute 32 miles to Portland,” she said.
So, she made the decision to leave Bank of America to be a stay at home mom, but only briefly. She said her “monkey mind’
told her she had to do something else. She began doing some research and soul searching and realized that while she’d been waiting for her green card in 2006, she’d taken online classes in web and graphic design.
She launched her web design business in 2013, realizing a couple of years later that there were no professional web and graphic designers in Columbia County. She snagged a website address and launched her site in 2015, around the time she joined the chamber for the first time.
“I loved it. I’ve learned a lot in terms of, not only how to do design, but how to do marketing, digital strategy, how to run a small business,” she said. “Anything from getting your tax ID number to opening up your business bank account and knowing what kind of entity you need to be, whether its sole proprietor or an LLC – all the intricacies that a brand-new business owner wouldn’t know.”
Marquardt said even though she’s a seasoned business owner, she’s still learning, and hopes to bring that knowledge to chamber members in the future.
And yes, she’ll keep the ball rolling on some of the chamber spots that have now become institutions, like ‘Chamber Chats.’ The next Coffee and Commerce networking event is scheduled for 8 a.m. on September 13 at the Amani Center.