Wendy Northcross

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2020 /

Writer: Brenna Collins

CEO of Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce \\ Preserving a prosperous Cape Cod for years to come

One hundred years ago, a group of forward-thinking residents founded the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and set out to revitalize this community, protecting its beauty and marketing its towns towards a rising tourism industry. Today, local forward-thinkers continue to congregate in the Chamber and tackle current issues, striving to ensure the Cape remains a beloved coastal haven for years to come. “One hundred years later, I’m sitting with my board saying, ‘I think we nailed that one, what’s next? What is going to happen in the next one hundred years?’” reflects Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for the past twenty-one years. 

Behind Northcross’ passion for the Cape is a family that brought her to these shores throughout her childhood summers, permanently settling here as an eighth grader. After moving to a handful of states for work as a young adult, the Cape called her back for the long run. Working in retail, radio station management, and insurance, as well as for the Bank of New England and Puritan Cape Cod, exposed her to the inner workings of various local trades. In the late 70s, her husband, Van, opened her eyes to the revitalization of downtown Hyannis. Northcross’ activism grew through an interest in protecting the Cape and developing its lacking areas. “Part of my success in life is understanding this place, having a passion for it, and wanting to do right by Cape Cod. You don’t have to live here your whole life to have that, but that’s my story,” Northcross confirms. 

In 1988, her activism transitioned into an executive position at the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce. After years of Hyannis Chamber work, the Cape Cod Chamber Board asked Northcross to be CEO during their one-year reorganization period. Twenty-one years later, Northcross still leads the Chamber as CEO, tackling all-encompassing issues, like wastewater planning and funding. 

For the past decade, a task force has been mitigating court action on our wastewater, assessing the best science at the best price to clean our water. “If we did it right, it would be affordable for Cape Codders and encourage things like affordable housing for our families,” Northcross comments. The team worked on passing landmark legislation a year and a half ago that created the short-term rental tax, gradually setting aside funds to help build wastewater systems and other needs like housing and transit. Over time, the goal is to save Cape towns over $1 billion in wastewater systems cost.

Looking towards the future, Northcross believes pivoting towards a blue economy poses great potential. “We’re out here on the water at the end of the world, and the discussion came back to water. We are never more than seven minutes from water, and with the islands and Plymouth we have over 1,000 miles of coastline. Let’s turn our future to the water and make it all about a blue economy.” Turning our future to the coastline means educating students about possible maritime careers, and encouraging year-round, sustainable employment so the next generation can stay here, raise a family, and make a living. This January, the Chamber hosted their second annual Water Works Career Day, where over 300 high school students gathered at Cape Cod Community College with representatives from various maritime  and water-related careers.

“Being on Cape Cod for so long leads you to understand what the issues are and moves you to action to turn the problems into solutions and the solutions into opportunity,” Northcross adds. “One of the things I have found with the Chamber is that the business community is consistently at the table. I have a lot of faith there will of course be challenges, but we are a community of smart people that want to be here and care about this place.” Northcross and the Chamber team embody the same determination as the founders did a century ago, with new horizons centered around coastal opportunity.

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Brenna Collins