By Kristina Pritchett
The day she submitted her application and résumé to become the next executive director of the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce, Heather Johnston sat inside Olamendi’s Restaurant in Capistrano Beach with her husband, Matt.
“We were sitting there, and I said ‘Can you imagine if I worked in Dana Point? My job would be to represent businesses like this, that would be so amazing,” Johnston said.
She wasn’t sure if she had the right qualifications for the job because she didn’t have a lot of experience with Chambers at the time.
“I was fortunate enough to be chosen,” Johnston said.
Five years later, Johnston is getting ready to say farewell to Dana Point. Inside her office, boxes were packed and lined up against the wall. Johnston will be heading north with her husband, who was offered a job opportunity in Mammoth Lakes.
Before becoming the executive director, Johnston has previously worked for the Irvine Company, Walt Disney and helped create a visitor bureau in Torrance.
In the past five years, Johnston said she’s been able to work with the city to further the interest of businesses in the community.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have a good relationship and support from the city,” Johnston said. “They’ve been nothing but helpful. We don’t always agree on everything, but for the most part they have an understanding that having a strong business community is imperative for having a good city.”
Johnston said one of the issues she worked on over the years was rebuilding the Chamber.
“When I first started, our membership was really down, and overall, our financial health was critical,” Johnston said. “It was really important to get the reputation of the Chamber back up.”
She said they began to hold new events, like Networking at Noon, and she worked with the Finance Committee to execute stronger financial policies.
“But, it’s not just me, it’s my staff. They all give 100 percent to helping the community and this Chamber,” Johnston said. “It’s because of them we’ve been able to put some money away.”
She said in the summer of 2011, the Chamber had less than $3,000 in the bank.
“Since then, we’ve seen a 40 percent increase in revenue and now have almost a 100 percent of our operating expenses in reserve,” Johnston said. “We didn’t even have money in the bank, much less in reserves.”
She said because the Chamber is in a healthy position, she knows the next person who comes in will have a strong foundation and will be able to take the Chamber to the next level.
“We have a good reputation within the Chamber communities; they’re going to be some quality applications,” Johnston said.
In her absence, she said the Board has stepped up and has taken responsibility of specific areas.
“I don’t think people will even notice, with the exception of not seeing me at events, that I’m gone,” Johnston said with a smile. “I think we have it organized enough that it will be an easy transition.”
Johnston said she is sad to leave the city because she loves the small town.
“I have a lot of pride in the Chamber and a lot of pride in working with our members,” Johnston said. “People should be so lucky to have an experience like this in their career.”
Johnston said while she’s still looking for a job up north, she’s excited about hiking more and possibly adopting a dog.
Johnston’s last day will be Friday, July 21. She invites everyone to attend the Chamber’s Quad Mixer on Wednesday, July 20, at Monarch Beach Resort for her last official event.