Dawn Sharpe

East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce CEO Dawn Sharpe announced her resignation on March 21.

Sharpe served as CEO of the organization for 11 years and was on the board of directors for four years before that. She said her resignation was mutually agreeable with the current board of directors.

“Last year was a rough year, but it was a rough year nationwide,” Sharpe said. “And that’s not just for chambers. It was tough for nonprofits everywhere.”

Still, the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce has been a standard-bearer under Sharpe’s leadership. She helped grow the organization from about 500 to 1,200 member businesses, or 48 percent of the businesses located in eastern St. Tammany.

The organization’s annual budget has grown from about $200,000 to more than $600,000 since she took over as CEO, and the local group won National Chamber of the Year honors in 2010 and state Chamber of the Year honors three different times.

“We had 400 different opportunities a year for businesses to network themselves,” Sharpe said. “That’s more days than there are in a year.”

Still, Sharpe found it difficult at times last year to get corporate sponsorship dollars for events, she said.

“Nondues revenue is about 60 percent of our budget,” she said. “And the (amount of money we were able to procure from sponsorships did) go down. I talked to the board and said 'Maybe it’s time for a new vision.'

"In small towns, it’s common for a chamber director to stay for 40 years. We’re not a small town. I just felt like we needed some new ideas.”

East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce Board Chairwoman Victoria Langlinais shared Sharpe’s resignation with members in a letter dated March 22.

“As we transition into new leadership, we are excited to focus on new paths of growth, new ideas, and steadfast guidance to our members and community,” Langlinais wrote. “The Chamber remains committed to its members and the community. Our mission to represent the business community at the local, state and national level will continue to be at the forefront of our mission.”

Sharpe said she is undecided on her next career move but is considering several options. She also had a suggestion for those hiring the next CEO.

“I suggested they find someone local with leadership skills, someone with a real passion for the community,” she said.

For more information on the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce, call (985) 643-5678.