Karen Chrjapin took the helm as the executive director of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
Her first day was a busy one, filled with answering congratulatory phone calls and e-mails, she said.
"People have been so positively responsive. I really appreciate that," said Chrjapin, who served the chamber as director of programs since June. "This job needs a lot of community support. And let's just say, I am feeling the love. "
The chamber's board of directors unanimously approved Chrjapin (prounounced SHRAP-in) to replace Gordon Renshaw, who resigned Feb. 1 after leading the chamber for 3 years.
Brett McGuire served as interim chairwoman for two months until recently announcing his intention to run for the District 24 state Senate seat, which is being vacated by Jim Whitehead.
Jean Roper, the chairwoman of the chamber's executive board, said Chrjapin was chosen from more than 30 applicants and six finalists from around the country, and Chrjapin was the only applicant who met all the requirements for the chamber's new leader.
"She feels so strongly about the success of the chamber," Roper said. "It was a no-brainer."
Chrjapin has owned and operated three small businesses including Four Star Video, which had locations in Martinez and Evans, and PostNet, with locations in Martinez, Evans and Augusta.
Chrjapin said her experience as a business owner and with the chamber has made her keenly aware of issues facing businesses and will make her more effective as a leader of the chamber.
"I was where these people are now at one time and I understand completely their concerns and frustrations," Chrjapin said.
Chrjapin was active with the chamber as a member and as a volunteer on the Ambassador Committee, charged with greeting and guiding new member businesses.
Even so, her progression into the director of programs, then executive director position was one she didn't see coming.
"Not in my wildest dreams," Chrjapin said. "Not at all. But it all seems natural somehow."
After urging from her husband Vic, Chrjapin said she decided to apply for the position because she thought a local person would be able to hit the ground running.
Chrjapin said she plans to continue with existing chamber initiatives such as striving for the state "Entrepreneurial Friendly" designation. But Chrjapin said she tries to be "forward thinking" and has gleaned some new ideas from other chamber members.
Chrjapin said she'd like to develop a Leadership Columbia County program, similar to the one offered in Augusta, and possibly a youth course similar to Toastmasters to complement the chamber's Youth Leadership program.
"She cares about what's best for the chamber," Roper said of Chrjapin, whom she called thoughtful. "She's not in it for herself personally. It was meant to be."
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