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By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN â After 24 years of building up North Kingstown as a community-based town, Karla Driscoll, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, has retired.
March 9 was her last day before she retreated to Savannah, Ga., on a planned vacation. Her retirement had been months in the works and, she said, this was the best time to do it.
âThe Chamber has gone in a new director to now emphasize economic development as a way to attract new services to the town,â said Driscoll. âI feel I led the Chamber through the first phase of making them vital in the community.â
In an email sent to all Chamber members, Lori Delfosse, Chamber Board Communications Chair, explained that the Chamberâs Board of Directors approved a new strategic plan focusing on economic development and delivering innovative services to help members of all sizes grow and thrive. The Chamber will be partnering with the town, the Quonset Business Park and Wickford Junction with a goal of attracting new businesses to North Kingstown while assisting existing businesses to develop a vibrant sustainable economic climate.
No further details have been released, but members and the public are invited to attend the Chamberâs annual meeting on April 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the new Wickford Junction Train Station to learn more.
Driscoll said sheâs proud of many of the accomplishments she and other board members were able to achieve during her tenure, including the annual tree lighting and Breakfast with Santa events, getting the restrooms built in Wickford and the Election Day food drive, among others.
Now, she said, sheâs playing the waiting game as the town counts down the days until the opening of the Wickford Junction Train Station.
âI canât believe this is happening. This is just what the town needs.â
Driscoll said if you had told her 24 years ago what North Kingstown would look like today, she would have had a hard time believing it but, because of the hard work of local businesses, she feels itâs not a surprise the town has come this far.
âI feel that making the Chamber an integral part of the community needed to be done,â she said. âHaving an organization that was pro-business and a place where business owners could come and exchange ideas has been great. What this new direction the Chamber will take, I canât fathom, but thatâs OK. I think Iâve done what I was supposed to do.â
Driscoll is hoping the Chamber will continue the town-wide gift certificates, saying that over the years $600,000 was kept in town because of the program which promotes local shopping.
Driscoll is also proud of the work done by the business advocates program, a relatively new concept spearheaded by the Chamber in which businesses interested in opening up in town are given assistance in navigating through the permitting and licensing process.
âThe feedback weâve received has been fantastic,â she said. âBoth parties come to the table and know what is expected of them. They go the site in question and tour it so they know what their working with.â
While the southern end of town is building up, Driscoll said she doesnât want the northern section to be forgotten.
âWe need all areas to be developed and what the planning department is doing with the Post Road Corridor is wonderful,â she said. âThis community is so charming and full of historic value; we want people attracted to come here.â
For the time being, Driscollâs plans revolve around spending time with her family and doing some traveling, especially in the new RV she and her husband purchased, but North Kingstown wonât be too far in the back of her mind. Sheâs planning on working more with the food pantry and the Chamberâs charitable foundations.
Her departing challenge to the residents of North Kingstown is to sponsor five thousand plastic toy sailboats to be raced in the annual Wickford Cup Race on Sept. 23. Each boat costs $5 and what many donât know is that 100 percent of the money goes towards the food pantry, local scholarships and school programs.
âWith over 27,000 residents, we ought to be able to charter thousands of boats,â she added. âThe money raised doesnât leave North Kingstown. Whatâs a better reason than that not to do this?â
Even though Driscoll is planning on staying involved in town-wide events, sheâs going to miss the day-to-day interaction with residents, staff and business owners.
But the free time will give her the ability to focus on other aspects of her life, too.
âMy garden needs some attending to, so Iâll start with that,â she laughed.