Chamber CEO Leaves; New One Sought

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

October 24, 2023

Former Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce CEO, Erica Crawford is shown in one of the more memorable events of her nearly 8-year tenure, the 2019 awards ceremony for Stage 4 at the Amgen Tour of California. The cyclist shown is Jasper Philipsen, who won the Tour Stage that day, with Crawford congratulating him along with one of the event’s trophy girls. Photo by Neil Farrell

There’s been a change at the top of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce as a long-time CEO bids adieu, but she isn’t going far and her presence is sure to continue to blow across Morro Bay in her new job.

In a news release dated Oct. 2, the Chamber of Commerce announced that CEO Erica Crawford was leaving her position for a new job with one of three companies that won leases to an offshore floating wind energy project being planned for a patch of ocean off San Simeon, about 57-miles northwest of Morro Bay.

“Crawford,” the release said, “has accepted a community liaison role with Ocean Winds North America, working on the Golden State Wind Project in the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area.”

Crawford said, “While it is difficult to leave the Chamber team, it is my care for this community and my desire to work in the renewable energy industry that drove me towards this opportunity. I am thrilled that my new role allows me to continue working in Morro Bay and the region, engage in thoughtful dialogue with existing colleagues, and build new relationships with community members.”

Crawford would become the first local representative to start work here on that massive wind energy project and will put a local, familiar face on a project that’s being developed by outside and foreign companies and reviewed and permitted by Federal and State agencies.

Crawford came to the Central Coast in 2012 from Brooklyn, NY and started as CEO at the Morro Bay Chamber in January 2016. She was in the Paso Robles wine industry prior to that. 

When she took over, the Chamber was known for supporting and putting on special events like the Avocado-Margarita Festival, kite and music festivals, all monumental undertakings to organize and stage. It also ran the Visitor’s Center under contract with the City.

Her tenure has seen several changes and milestones, including a focus more on economic development, business retention and support, and things like the Visitor’s Center and special events have gone away, though some like the Citizen of the Year dinner have continued.

It was the COVID pandemic that ended the visitor’s center when the City shut down non-essential businesses, under the State’s direction. The City shut the visitor’s center and actually discouraged visitors to come here during the early months of the pandemic response. That of course didn’t work and the City was busy as ever (perhaps even busier), during the Summer of 2020 and 2021. 

And the business closures, fear of the virus and societal mandates against large gatherings contributed to the decline of big celebrations, despite the busy tourist traffic.

Crawford has also been at the head of the formation of a special governmental affairs committee with the Chamber that has taken a keen interest in local matters, both business and governmental. 

Crawford said she’s enjoyed the ride. “I have loved every minute of my seven and a half years as the CEO of this Chamber,” said Crawford. “Together, with talented and committed board members and skilled and dedicated staff members, we have become a professional and stable organization and an effective voice for business in Morro Bay.” 

Current Chamber Board Chairman, Ray Riordan, wished her well. “While we are sad that Erica is departing,” Riordan said, “she has built a great team and is leaving the Chamber with a strong strategic plan in place. We are sincerely thankful for the years that she has served our community and extremely excited that she has decided to remain here in Morro Bay.”

The board brought in a Chamber veteran as an interim leader. “The Chamber,” reads the news release, “has secured HRM Consulting to provide interim management services while the Board of Directors creates a search committee to find their next executive director.”

HRM owner and a former chamber executive, Jocelyn Brennan, has stepped into Crawford’s role at the Chamber Office during the replacement search. HRM Consulting is also a human resources consulting firm specializing in working with non-profit groups that don’t have HR departments of their own, according to the company website. 

Brennan is experienced in business development, stakeholder engagement, and permit processes, according to the Chamber.

“HRM’s experience,” Riordan said, “uniquely qualifies them for this important transition period, ensuring uninterrupted services to the Chamber’s 310 members and to our partners in economic development at the City of Morro Bay.”

It’s not the first time the Chamber has turned to HRM. “The firm conducted interviews and surveys with Morro Bay business owners in 2021 for a ‘Business Improvement District Feasibility Study’ completed that year,” the release said.

Crawford’s nearly 8 years as Chamber CEO was a relatively long tenure for the position over the past few decades (The Chamber of Commerce’s presence in Morro Bay dates back to the 1930s.) The Chamber has at times had quick turnover and changes to its mission, including its relationship with the City of Morro Bay.

The Chamber had run a visitor’s center for decades, even serving as staff for the old Community Promotions Committee. 

But the formation of the Tourism Business Improvement District and the City’s cost-saving switch to TBID to run, staff and pay for the visitor’s center, while saving the City money during a tight budget time, was a big blow to the Chamber’s importance to the business community. 

A tough time immediately followed the loss of the City’s visitor center contract, and the Chamber changed direction towards economic development, which the City supported and continues to support with annual funding. The Chamber Office remains in a City-owned building at 695 Harbor St.

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