Though many people view the Poconos as a region driven largely by tourism, it also has a vibrant and strong business base.
Bringing more attention to those businesses and working closely with the community to support them requires a leader with vision, passion and a willingness to embrace change and bring people together to help them succeed.
Monroe County has such a leader in Valerie Case, a Saylorsburg resident who took over in March as vice president of operations for the Greater Pocono Chamber of Commerce.
She has big plans for helping elevate and strengthen the Greater Pocono Chamber’s position, both now and in the future. Based in Stroudsburg, the organization serves 500 members.
Over the years, she has come to see the Poconos as a region with great growth potential and a place where people can live, work and play. She also sees the importance of fostering a younger leaders through collaborating with such groups as The Monroe 2030 Action Team, a group of community leaders and volunteers committed to economic development.
Recently, Case sat down with Lehigh Valley Business to share her thoughts on where she sees the region heading and how a positive approach can yield strong results.
Lehigh Valley Business: What is your leadership style? Can you describe it?
Valerie Case: Coaching. I like to try to lift people up to encourage others. I try to lead by example. I wouldn’t ask you to complete a task I wouldn’t be willing to complete myself. I wouldn’t instruct you to do something if I haven’t done it. I want to empower you to make decisions. I want to give people autonomy. To be the boss, I feel like I need to be replaceable. I would never want anyone to feel held back. We are in constant motion. If someone underneath me rises up, it’s because I’ve done my job well.
LVB: What’s your background? How did you get started with the chamber?
Case: I have my master’s in counseling. I ran a crisis residence for five years. I was in the mental health field for 15 years. Undergrad I went to Moravian College in Bethlehem.
About five years ago, I started volunteering for the chamber. Through doing that, I found I really enjoyed that because I was giving back to the community but in a different way. When [the position for Monroe County] came up, it was the perfect fit. It all came together and worked out really well.
LVB: How has the region changed over the years? What areas have seen success? What are some challenges businesses in the Poconos face?
Case: I think tourism has grown, but the businesses coming here also have grown, which I think people didn’t know. East Stroudsburg is not just a college town. They brought a distillery in from West Virginia. We are bringing in more upscale things and enhancing our main streets.
We are learning to appeal more not just to the tourism industry, which still remains vitally important.
Individually, some of our smaller townships have invested some money into what resources they have and how best to utilize them, taking a look at how best to capitalize on them. The visitors bureau helps. They are such an important part of our community. They help market us from Virginia to New York.
[The challenges include] the infrastructure of such a vast community and areas of it that are not quite developed. There are so many individual organizations working on the same things, whether that’s economic development, whether that’s education, encouraging people to bring those ideas together.
LVB: What are some of your plans for helping the business community grow?
Case: Involvement with the 2030 community [Monroe 2030 Action Team] will be a piece of that. Giving the community a voice, trying to add value to what we do, creating new opportunities for what they do, creating new opportunities for the community to come together. Create opportunities for people to come together and discuss ideas and try to provide a little education to our small businesses.
We are adding a new networking event, Coffee and Commerce, it will be monthly. One of the first things I did was start to get some young folks together. There’s so many fresh ideas that come from that group. We call it PLOT, Pocono Leaders of Tomorrow. We’ve been really lucky. I’ve found some great chairs to spearhead that. That committee is committed to giving back.
Instill in the young professional the idea of service and you can give back to the community.
We have a two-year partnership with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. We maintain our own board and budget. Our membership is able to attend events in the Lehigh Valley. They offer us support, assistance and consistency.
LVB: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Case: I think my favorite part of my job is when I see something work. When that actually comes to fruition, that’s definitely the part I enjoy the most because at that point, it doesn’t become talk, it becomes reality.