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Spotlight on Business Leaders: West Hartford Chamber of Commerce

Barbara Lerner, executive director for the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce. photo by Todd Fairchild

In this final installment of our five-part series, leaders of local business and neighborhood associations have a chance to talk about what they love about West Hartford.

By Lisa Lelas, as seen in West Hartford Magazine, Issue 1, 2015
Photos by Todd Fairchild/ShutterbugCT.com

Even if you didn’t grow up here, it’s impossible to miss the many positive changes that have come to West Hartford over the past few years.

The cornerstones for a significant part of that metamorphosis are West Hartford’s four strong business associations that have nurtured, encouraged, and served as the foundation for change and development: West Hartford Center Business Association, Elmwood Business Association, Park Road Association and Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association. And alongside them all the way is the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce.

We-Ha.com will spotlight each association in this five-part series, and this is the fourth installment. Click here to read about the West Hartford Center Business Association , Elmwood Business AssociationThe Park Road Association, and Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association.

West Hartford Chamber of Commerce

Barbara Lerner, executive director for the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce. photo by Todd Fairchild

Barbara Lerner, executive director for the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce. photo by Todd Fairchild

Barbara Lerner has been the executive director of the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce since July 2014 and has brought a wealth of business experience to her position.

“I owned a jewelry store in the Center for 13 years and in downtown Hartford before that. I was President of the West Hartford Center Business Association for 10 years until 2008 and after that, I was the marketing director for Blue Back Square,” she says.

Tapping into her own life has helped her immensely. “Everything I’ve done in my work history over the past 30 years totally prepared me for this position … from my retail experience, knowing how to run a small business, marketing, work experience with large and small businesses and being actively involved in the community. I know a lot of people and have met so many more people through the Chamber, more than I ever would have in my regular life!”

She recalls how helpful the Chamber had always been to her in the past. “Linda French was the former executive director and she was very welcoming when I was a business owner. The Chamber is very beneficial for growing businesses.”

Located at 948 Farmington Ave., Barbara says, “We are in the center of everything. It’s a great location! Our office is open 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. every day. Currently we have close to 500 members!”

The role of the Chamber is clearly defined in West Hartford. “We are here to serve tourists (providing maps of the town and answering any questions) and we serve local residents and businesses. People join for the networking opportunities, for services and programs offered, the camaraderie of new friends and business colleagues, to simply learn how to do things better. For small businesses, we even offer Chamber insurance for our members in CT. Competition is not a factor. Being unified is good. We try to connect businesses together to help each other.”

The Chamber boosts many regular events in town, and also hosts two to three multi-chamber annual events in combination with neighboring towns. Their monthly Business After-hours takes place the second Thursday of each month from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at various member locations.

“On the first and third Friday of each month we run a group called ‘Connections’ at 7:30 a.m.,” says Barbara, “It’s free and open to everybody to come in and network. We also run the annual Mayor’s State of the Town Address at Wampanaoug Country Club and our big Economic Development Update, which recently took place with Mark McGovern, director of community services speaking on new developments in town. We have a breakfast series with various topics of discussion.” These meetings are free for members. $10 for non-members. “And, of course, our annual golf tournament will take place on September 21 this year at the Hartford Golf Club.”

Innovation is key and the chamber is always willing to try new things. “We recently brought all of the business associations together in the same room for a meeting to share ideas and visions for growth. Many members had never met before. It’s a great forum to work together. At our monthly meetings, we have all of the association presidents or an association rep there.”

Bettering the community is the mission of the Chamber. “We’ve been a part of every transformation this town has seen … from cobblestone sidewalks to the traffic islands with trees … the Chamber is diligent in preserving the character of a charming hometown. Despite having a population of 65,000, the look and flavor stays quaint.”

One of the most recent developments for West Hartford that Barbara highlights is the launch of CTFastrak, which has been getting favorable reviews.

Originally from New York, Barbara has lived in CT for 40 years and in West Hartford for 30 of those years. She and her husband, Hank, a psychologist, have one grown son, Sam. “West Hartford has changed drastically over the years! I’ve seen it all. Changes have all been positive, even if people didn’t want them originally. New Englanders, I have found, typically don’t like change, like when Blue Back came in and Westfarms expanded!”

Barbara’s message to the business community is simply put: “If you want to be successful, you need to be involved in the Chamber!”

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