HOMETOWN: Cadyville, New York FAMILY: Husband, Jon; son Griffin; pets: Dixi, Oreo and Nacho EDUCATION: B.A., Mass Communication, SUNY Plattsburgh OCCUPATION: Executive Vice President, North Country Chamber of Commerce
Jody Parks has been a well-known face at the North Country Chamber of Commerce for over 25 years. She has been a driving force both behind and in front of many of its signature events including the Business Expo, a golf tournament and the Taste of the North Country. She has made a career out of supporting and promoting local business and is unfailingly positive about living and working in the region.
Behind her public persona there is a less well-known side to Jody. She grew up in West Plattsburgh, graduated from high school at 17 and immediately was hired as a professional figure skater for a traveling tour with Holiday on Ice’. For the next five years she traveled the world, performing in Europe, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand.
After hanging up her ice skates, Parks returned to the area where she attended SUNY Plattsburgh, met her future husband and settled down. She worked briefly at Champlain Centre before finding her place at the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
Parks took time out her schedule recently in the middle of the unprecedented ‘New York on Pause’ pandemic response to share some of the lessons she has learned during her career.
SB: First, the obvious question. What have you learned about yourself during the quarantine?
JP: I think we have all learned to appreciate going to the office every day. Three months ago, if you had asked everyone whether they would choose to work from home if they could, they all would have said yes. Now, I think you might get a different answer. There are definitely benefits to working from home, but it is also a lot more challenging in many ways.
It will be interesting to see where we end up after this. What is going on right now is something no one would have ever dreamed could happen. Who could imagine that almost all of the businesses in the U.S. would be asked to shut down? It is inconceivable. If we force ourselves to look for the silver lining, I think some good will come from the struggle.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
JP: One of the big ones was to have fun. We all need to make money to survive and we all have jobs that we need to do every day. Some parts of our jobs are inherently fun. Others are more of a chore, but they still have to get done, so you might as well have fun doing them.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
JP: I first worked for Carolyn Harding when she was the Marketing Director at Champlain Centers. When she left the mall, she went on to become the Director of Chamber’s Tourism Bureau. I followed Carolyn there, and was fortunate to get to work with her at both places. She was like the Energizer Bunny – and she still is, to this day. She took on every challenge with a smile. She had a wonderful way of bringing people together and getting them excited about accomplishing a common goal. Her enthusiasm was truly inspiring.
SB: How have you inspired or mentored others?
JP: I recently ran into someone who vividly remembered something I said to him 15 years ago. I don’t remember it, but he talked about how much what I said made a difference in his life. That was surprising. It made me realize that it’s the little things we do every day that affect people in big ways. Something as simple as striking up a conversation with a person who is standing alone at a networking event can make a big difference.
SB: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
JP: Find your balance. I learned this from sports first. Whatever you are doing the advice is always ‘bend your knees.’ This is meant to keep you balanced and ready for what comes next. It is good advice for life. When you stay balanced, you are ready to face whatever comes your way.
SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life?
JP: Back in my ice show days, I started living by the motto, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” To me it means that you get one shot at things. Have fun, do them well and don’t assume that you will get a second chance.
SB: If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you offer her?
JP: It probably doesn’t matter what I’d say, because my younger self wouldn’t listen anyway! Whatever I would tell her, she would still do it her own way. We like to think that we could go back and give our younger selves advice, so we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. In reality, we had to make those mistakes on our own in order to get where we are today. There are some things you have to learn the hard way.
SB: Tell us about your approach to management and leadership.
JP: I would never ask someone on our staff to do something I would not do myself. As a non-profit organization, we do it all. Whether it is shoveling snow, minor repairs, computer networking, or unloading boxes, whatever I ask them to do, I do it right along with them.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
JP: I always stress the importance of networking and making connections. People do business with people they know. We have an amazing business community and we’re lucky to live in a small enough area that it’s possible to form solid relationships with a large number of people working in the region. Embrace networking, get to know people and collaborate as much as possible.
SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
JP: I’m not as confident as people may think. I pretty much second guess everything I do. Then after I do things, I wonder if I could have done them better. I think people overestimate my confidence. But as my former skating pro use to tell me, “Never let them see you sweat. Shoulders back…head up…. now get out there and get it done!”
SB: What do you do in your free time
JP: Downhill skiing, summer kayaking and paddle boarding on Chazy Lake, hiking, spending time with friends. I love photography and started doing it as a side business about a year ago. I plan to grow that business when I have more time in the future.
SB: What inspires you?
JP: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I am inspired by stories of individuals who don’t seem to have a lot of resources, but still find a way to do amazing things that make a difference.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
JP: I am proud of where the Chamber of Commerce is as an organization in our community and the role I played in getting it there. Our whole staff has worked hard to make the Chamber the “go-to” organization for businesses in our region. Whether it’s dayto-day services or support through a crisis, the Chamber provides leadership and support that is invaluable to the North Country.
SB: How would you like to be remembered?
JP: A friend likes to call me ‘The Queen of Fun.’ While it is kind of a joke, I take it as a compliment. We work really hard at the Chamber, but we have a lot of fun doing it. We get our members involved and create a positive atmosphere where they can succeed. SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
JP: We are super fortunate to live in the North Country. We have an incredible mix of outdoor adventure opportunities, natural resources, wonderful small businesses, and innovative manufacturing. If we continue to find a balance between our natural resources and economic development, we will continue to prosper.
After nearly 26 years at the Chamber, Jody Parks is making plans to retire. She is looking forward to spending time with her family, enjoying the Adirondack mountains and lakes and focusing on her growing photography business. She is committed to the Chamber and its continued success, so will be on staff until the current crisis is under control and a solid transition can be made.