Chris Crawford takes the helm at the B.I. Chamber
After almost six months with no executive director at the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, that position has finally been filled. Chris Crawford, who moved to the island with his spouse, Maryanne Crawford, in July of 2020 when she became town manager, quickly involved himself in the community, doing freelance writing for The Block Island Times, coaching school sports, and this year taking the position as athletic director for the school. Two weeks ago he assumed the helm at the Chamber. Crawford brings years of experience to the position, having been involved in business start-ups since the 1990s, when as Crawford says, technology was in its infancy. He was involved with a technology start-up that did work for Amazon, and eventually was swallowed up by the now-giant. But things evolve, and Crawford soon found himself involved in the event-planning business with an organization that he built from scratch that extended across the globe, involving events in some 50 countries.
Holding events in foreign countries with an international clientele means knowing all the ins and outs of customs and the logistics of getting all the workers and visitors in and out as well, all while providing for a great array of language differences.
When The Times joked that he should be in charge of the Fourth of July, Crawford said he and his wife did wander around and took a lot of notes. “There should be 80 porta potties down here,” he said.
As far as the Chamber and Visitors Center go, Crawford has a lot of observations, and ideas. Even at this time of year there are a lot of tourist-related inquiries, and Crawford felt that the Block Island Tourism Council should be more involved with the Visitors Center than merely funding it with $15,000 per year. “The orb questions go on every single day,” he says. Besides information on what to do and where to eat, people pick up trail maps and other brochures. There are even frequent inquiries about where to rent a car. “It gets very busy in here.”
One thing that readers might find surprising is the amount of complaints the Chamber is getting about “nothing being open,” despite marketing efforts to expand the shoulder season. Crawford said that
even on Veterans Day several people came in asking about rental cars.
“The bathrooms get a ton of use,” said Crawford. “They need to be upgraded.” So do the lockers. “A lot of people use them for their backpacks while they rent bikes or mopeds.”
The lockers were scheduled for replacement before the summer season, but, according to Crawford, Interstate Navigation told him they arrived so damaged that the ferry company refused delivery of them.
For the Chamber, well, Crawford wants it to return to a more traditional business-promoting organization with an emphasis on economic development “for all the businesses out here.” To that end, he hopes to have monthly newsletters, quarterly meetings for members, monthly meetings of the board, and to bring in “resources from the other side” to help educate business owners on different technologies and practices so that they don’t need to take trips to the mainland to do that. One area he mentioned, which is on more and more people’s minds, is cyber-security, so he wants to have an internet safety day.
He also wants to make welcome packets for not only new businesses but for new homeowners to help them get to know the community.
Crawford also wants to build on his experience with events and already has some in mind to bring activities during the shoulder season that will attract families and business to the island – or at least give
them something to do besides “coming over here and plunking down in a bar for the day.”
What does he have in mind? Well, a few things. One is an extension of his job of athletic director, and that is to try to have a cross-country race meet in conjunction with the Rhode Island Interscholastic
League next fall. The idea is to have student runners and their families come out for the meet, and perhaps stay for the night and take in a meal or two and some shopping.
Another idea is to have an arts festival that will involve local and off-island artists, again during the shoulder season.
But the event most fomenting in his mind is one that would involve the airport, if he can get Rhode Island Airport Corporation to go along with it, and that is to have a vintage airplane show – not in the air but on the ground. He envisions it as a destination event with lots of family fun.
Besides the vintage planes, Crawford would like to invite the Navy Band, which is situated at the Naval War College in Newport, and the National Guard that can and does set up a rock-climbing wall. He would also like to involve Heinz Field for a hot air balloon event. You won’t be able to actually take a ride in one he says, but you may be able to go up in a tethered balloon, either early in the morning, or in the evening when there is hardly any breeze. Otherwise, Block Island is just too windy. Round it all out with a couple of food trucks, and you have all the makings for a two-day festival.
“The idea is,” says Crawford of the airport, “we have an asset there. Let’s take advantage of it.”