by Michelle St . Onge | Photo Supplied
Issue: May 2022
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Family: Daughter and son-in law, two grandchildren
Education: Certifications in Professional & Human Resources and Economic Development
Occupation: Vice President for Economic Development, North Country Chamber of Commerce (NCCC)
Community Involvement: Numerous local, regional and national boards focused on workforce and economic development
Sue Matton has been a familiar face at the North Country Chamber of Commerce (NCCC) for the past 27 years, but it is not where her Plattsburgh story began. She grew up in Pittsburgh and lived there until her family moved to Skaneateles, New York when she was thirteen. She grew up, married, worked as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP), and had a daughter. In 1978 she was approached by the management at IHOP and offered a position at their Plattsburgh location. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Where is that?’” Matton recalled fondly.
She moved to the North Country with her daughter and worked her way up the ladder at IHOP to eventually assume ownership. When Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed in 1995, Matton’s restaurant was one of the small businesses that were immediately impacted. “I thought a lot about what to do. I knew it would get better eventually, but at that time I decided that the best thing for me and my family was to leave the business,” she shared.
The closure of the Base brought grant-funded resources to the local Chamber of Commerce to help support businesses in the area. Matton took a chance and was hired by newcomer Garry Douglas to work a one-year job at the Chamber in 1995. “My task was to help businesses that were impacted by the closure,” she recalled.
When the grant ran out, Matton was hired full-time in what was then called Business Services. In the years since, she has called on her expertise to serve through several natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following are excerpts from Sue Matton’s recent interview with Strictly Business.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
SM: Garry Douglas has been a big mentor to me. We both came from backgrounds that were very different from what we are doing here. We also went through The Institute for Organization Management (We call it “Chamber School”). That experience helped us to expand the Chamber’s mission from what had been chiefly a tourism focus to the success it is today. Garry has been the eyes and ears for us, and the inspiration behind what this organization has become.
SB: What are some of the key differences between running a for-profit business and a not-for-profit organization?
SM: When you are running a business, you make the decisions as the owner. Whether you are right or wrong, you make the decision and you implement it. In a not-for-profit like the Chamber, there are members and committees to consult. We work by consensus. It was a big change for Garry and me to invite other people in and get their opinions before moving forward. The funding streams are also quite different. Financially, Chambers of Commerce don’t have shareholders, but you still need to have money to do the things you want to do. Our funding comes from things like memberships, grants and fundraisers. We need this funding so that we can accomplish all the things that support the community.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
SM: Make contacts and find a mentor. Find someone in your chosen profession who has done the things you want to do and can help to guide you to figure out how to do those things in your own life.
SB: What advice do you have for someone considering starting a business locally?
SM: Do your research. Having an idea of what you want to do is great, but if you are interested in making a living at it, you first have to evaluate whether it is a successful idea or better left as a hobby. You have to ask yourself, ‘Could I be successful running this business?’ SCORE is a great program to tap into. I have been a SCORE volunteer for 27 years. We help people who might be struggling or want to start a business by sharing our own experiences.
SB: What does success look like to you?
SM: Success for me is making a difference in people’s lives. I want to be able to say that I had a positive impact on the people in my community. I have always said that if I do my job properly, then people will be able to find good jobs, support their families and do what they want to do. That is a really good feeling for me. I absolutely enjoy what I do!
SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success?
SM: I am dogged. I am always looking for ways to make whatever it is we are doing successful. I will keep on going until I figure it out, and that often means coming to work early and leaving late. That is what the job takes. You need to be strategic about what will help you develop the influence you want to have, but you also need to put in the time and the work to figure it out.
SB: Tell me about your greatest failure or missed opportunity in your career?
SM: When my daughter was five years old, IHOP asked me to relocate to Japan for work. I had to make a big decision, and I decided I did not want to uproot my daughter. Looking back now, I think it would have been such a good experience for her.
SB: You’ve seen hurricanes, closures, and a pandemic during your time at the Chamber. What lessons have you learned from all of these?
SM: All of these challenges are different, but they do have commonality. They all affected the entire community. The thing that the Chamber of Commerce was able to do in all of those situations was to provide information for area businesses on what was available to help them get through what was happening. The Chamber helped businesses get access to the programs that were offered and provided support for the people running them.
During the pandemic, so much changed every day. Here at the Chamber, we were all working from home in the beginning, but we decided the greatest contribution we could make was to help businesses understand the frequent changes and the programs that were available to support them. There were a lot of programs offered, but the information on how to qualify for and access them was constantly changing. We helped businesses figure out how to benefit from the programs that applied to them. We decided to offer the “Daily Dose” email newsletter to help straighten things out. People came to rely on that for information.
SB: What pandemic-driven business changes do you plan to keep now that things are stabilizing again?
SM: We decided to keep sending the emailed newsletter with a twice weekly frequency. Another thing that we will keep is online events. We used to run all our events only in-person. The last two years we have had to do them virtually. What we found was that now we have a huge draw for some of our events from all over the country. A lot of the people who are showing up are coming from places like Buffalo, Vancouver or even Mexico. Those people would not be able to come if it were only in person. We can expand our reach with a virtual format, but still offer the in-person
experience which remains the best way to make connections.
SB: If you could have dinner and spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
SM: I got to know Hillary Clinton a bit when she was our senator. She is a very astute person. When you said something to her, she listened and responded in a way that immediately got right to the core of the issue at hand. I would like to spend some time with her. I think it would be very interesting.
SB: How would you like to be remembered?
SM: I hope people think that I helped Plattsburgh and the North Country community with the work I did. It has been so amazing to see what has happened. If I was a small part of making the economy of Plattsburgh what it is today, then that will have made my career meaningful.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
SM: Our connection with Canada is really what is driving our economy. There are a lot of Canadian businesses located here, but there are also Canadians who visit here, and they are coming back now that we have the border open. We have a shared culture with so many people who live here and go back and forth across the border to visit their friends and family. It is such a large part of who we are here in the North Country. We need to continue to foster our relationship with our neighbors to the north.