The Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce ain’t what it used to be.

The Gloucester-based organization has officially become the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, after adding Ipswich to its roster of towns. And that, says chamber CEO Ken Riehl, “puts us in the top ten chambers in the commonwealth, which, when it comes to priorities like housing, transportation and the blue economy, gives us a lot of influence at state and local levels.”

It also, says Ipswich chamber board member Lisa Shanko, gives the all volunteer staff who've been running the Ipswich chamber the kind of resources they and their 50 members need.

One of four volunteer board members who also hold down full time jobs — hers as vice president and commercial loans officer at BankGloucester's Ipswich branch — Shanko says they are thrilled with the merger.

“It’s something we’ve talked about for years,” she says, "but it took the pandemic to finally make it happen.”

As an all-volunteer staff with jobs of their own, the COVID-19 pandemic was just  “a bridge too far,” she says. “We simply didn’t have the resources to keep up.”

The Cape Ann Chamber did.

With a salaried staff of professionals, Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce could and did, she says, pivot to meet the extraordinary demands of grassroots businesses devastated by an unprecedented lockdown.

So, after years of considering a merger, the two chambers finally talked turkey in February, and the talks eventually led to last Friday's announcement of a merger. 

For Olivia Perez-O'Dess, it also led to a new job description. 

Perez- O'Dess, formerly the Cape Ann Chamber's director of member services, is now director of community relations, in charge of the boots-on-the-ground side of the merger. Which means getting out there in Ipswich, attending meetings —  including one of the Ipswich Rotary of which she's a member — and pounding the pavement, visiting local shops and businesses, which is what she was doing when the Times caught up with her one very hot afternoon this week.

Working closely with local businesses and municipal and community leaders by supporting community initiatives, fostering economic development growth and strategic planning is her zone. In Ipswich that includes working not just with the local retail community, but thriving industry leaders and major employers, such as Ebsco Publishing and New England Biolabs.

"When Ipswich reached out to us, they wanted to make sure (the merger) would not confuse Ipswich with Cape Ann," says Riehl. "It's Olivia's job to make sure that doesn't happen, so gathering information, literally getting street smart is a first priority of getting to know what Ipswich members do want from the merger."

"Vitality," for one thing, says Shanko. "The (Cape Ann) chamber is just so vibrant, and does so much wonderful stuff."

Shanko, who's worked in Ipswich for 18 years, joined the Cape Ann Chamber two years ago when she joined Ipswich's BankGloucester office. As a member, she saw firsthand what it was doing for its membership. "It's the strongest hospitality chapter on the North Shore, for sure," she says.  "Ken has so much energy, and that energy is contagious."

For his part, Reihl —who's led the Cape Ann Chamber since 2013— is sensitive to Ipswich's singular identity. Ipswich's businesses and destinations are on the Route 1 corridor to and from Interstate 95, strategically located as a major gateway to Cape Ann, but the town has its own amazing history, identity and natural beauty. Ipswich is nobody's idea of a fifth wheel, least of all, Reihl. 

"We often get questions as to whether Ipswich is part of Cape Ann," he says. "They want us to put them on the map in the Cape Ann Universe," but they want to maintain their own identity. "We're thrilled to have them onboard," he says.

Like Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester, Ipswich will, he promises, get equal billing. And it will get its first official "welcoming reception" on Thursday, Sept. 2,  from 5 to 7 p.m, at  True North Ales, 116 County Road, Ipswich. Current and prospective members are invited. More information may be found at

 Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or


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