Founder of Charleston nonprofit Lowcountry Local First stepping down after 15 years | Business

A nonprofit dedicated to supporting small businesses in the Charleston region will start a national search for a new executive director after founding director Jamee Haley announced Monday she will step down at the end of the year. 

Haley, who helped launch Lowcountry Local First almost 15 years ago, said Monday she’s been thinking for several years about when to leave the role. Now felt like “the appropriate time,” she said. 

Haley wrote to members in an email Monday that she believes the group is at a “pivotal juncture” in developing a vision for its future. 

“I am excited to see what fresh eyes and a new perspective can bring to the mission, particularly during a time of heightened understanding of the value that local businesses bring to our community and the need to create an inclusive economy,” Haley wrote. 

At this point, Haley said she doesn’t know what her next move will be, but she will be looking forward to doing something with a “bit of a slower pace.”

“Running a nonprofit is not for the weak of heart,” she said. 

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That’s been especially true this year as the coronavirus pandemic put groups like LLF in “crisis mode” as they tried to help struggling small business cope with the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Haley and others aided members applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans and hosted virtual workshops on how to navigate relief options. 

Haley’s last day as director will be Dec. 31. Director of operations Lauren Gellatly will step in as interim director until a candidate is selected, and Haley will move into a consultant role to help with fundraising and the onboarding process for a new director. 

“We will miss Jamee at the helm of Lowcountry Local First,” Nicki Root, board chair for LLF, said in an announcement of Haley’s departure. “It is through her leadership, passion, vision and just plain hard work that LLF has become the voice for, and advocate of, local businesses.”

Root said she looks forward to the organization’s “next chapter,” which “in part will be dedicated to racial equity and inclusion as an organization.”

Since its founding, the group has grown to include about 550 local businesses across all major sectors.

Initiatives started during Haley’s time as director — like Local Works, a co-working space that’s in the process of expanding and relocating, and Good Enterprises, a program designed to provide equitable opportunities for minority and low-income individuals to start businesses — will “remain a top focus” for the organization, according to the announcement.