‘Work on the fundamentals’

Submitted photo
Rick Weldon, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, says he sticks to water most days when he’s on a coffee break. “Approaching 60, it has become increasinly important to replace things I like with things I need,” he said.

Rick Weldon, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce

By MIKE LEWIS
mlewis@crossroadsbizjournal.com

With a work background that ranges from rural Maryland to Washington, D.C., to the depths of the ocean, Rick Weldon reasons that “a little patience, compassion, creativity and focus” can overcome just about any obstacle.

Weldon was recently named president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. He follows Elizabeth Cromwell, who resigned to take the helm of the Charlottesville (Va.) Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Weldon brings a diverse background to his latest role. He served four years in the U.S. Navy submarine service then spent 12 years working for the Navy department. He then shifted into a political career, serving as a Frederick County Commissioner and a Maryland General Assembly delegate. He also has been town manager in Brunswick, Md., and Frederick, Md.

In 2013 he joined the Frederick County chamber as part of its member relations team. He most recently served as vice president of operations.

He enjoys reading and traveling and, as he put it, he’s “been known to dabble in local theater.”

On a break, is it coffee, tea, soda, water …?

These days, mostly water. I keep a 32-ounce sport bottle filled in the fridge at work, and it accompanies me throughout the day. Approaching 60, it has become increasingly important to replace things I like with things I need.

What will be your priorities as you step into the leadership role at the chamber?

First, to work on the fundamentals. We’re going to concentrate on getting the little things right for our members. We’re going to give them multiple reasons to join or renew, instead of the opposite. We’re on the cusp of a rebranding effort, and our whole team will be supporting this top-to-bottom comprehensive effort. Finally, and most importantly, the Frederick chamber is a part of an exciting culture of innovation. We partner with public, private and nonprofit sector leaders to build and grow our diverse economy. Frankly, I think we’re doing better than most places, but I’m confident that we can, and will, do even better in the years ahead.

How will your diverse background come into play in your new position?

When you’ve ridden a 425-foot-long, 55-foot-in-circumference submarine filled with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicle warheads powered by a nuclear reactor with 140 other guys underwater for months at a time, you find that work-related challenges aren’t quite as difficult as others see them. Having served in political office, I’ve seen people in the worst situations and I’ve seen us call upon our better angels. As a town manager, I learned a long time ago that no one wants to hear who’s to blame — they only want to hear how a problem gets fixed. A little patience, compassion, creativity and focus, and we can overcome any obstacle.

From your standpoint, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing businesses in this region generally and in Frederick County specifically?

Transportation, workforce and growth-related concerns top the list of challenges, both in Frederick and the region. When I commuted to the Washington, D.C., metro area in the 1980s and ‘90s, it was unheard of to have a substantial commuter population north and west of Frederick. Now, folks drive daily from west of Martinsburg W.Va., Hancock, Md., and well north of Gettysburg, Pa. Our highway network simply hasn’t kept pace. Families are losing 20 hours a week with loved ones who leave before dawn and return after dark. Our workforce of the future, kids in Frederick and Hagerstown elementary schools right now, will need an entirely different skill set for the jobs that await them. Finally, Frederick finds itself in a long-term battle over residential growth. The ideological swing between pro and anti-growth creates muddled policy choices and confused land-use plans. It’s not new, but it isn’t getting much better, either. Like I said earlier, smart, creative and motivated people working together can overcome any challenge.

Outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

I have three awesome adult children and five grandsons that range in age from age 3 to 9. Two of them live down the street from my wife and I, and three live in Boonsboro (Md.). I aspire to be the best grandad a child could have, and my ambition is to keep working at that as long as I’m able. I also read voraciously (I always have a work of fiction and a nonfiction book going at once), I like to travel to state and national parks in our renovated RV, and occasionally I’ve been known to dabble in local theater. (It keeps my memory active and my ego fed.)

Want to share a cup of coffee with our readers? Send an email to facetime@crossroadsbizjournal.com or call reporter Mike Lewis at 301-791-7482.