After leading OC Chamber for almost 13 years, she takes over county post
(March 6, 2020) After nearly 13 years, Melanie Pursel will say farewell to her role as president and CEO of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and say hello to her new job as the Worcester County Tourism Director.
“I feel very fortunate to have served our community,” Pursel said. “I feel like I have forged many partnerships and collaborations, which is key. Relationships are so important to building our community, [and by] working with the town, the county [and] the business organizations … that has really propelled us to the successes we have had.”
Pursel’s connection to Ocean City began in her childhood, as her family frequently spent time in the resort.
“I grew up coming here as a child,” Pursel said. “My parents always had a place down here, so we would come here all winter, the weekends [and] no matter the time of year I just always loved it. I never wanted to leave.”
Growing up in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties, Pursel went on to attend Salisbury University and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a minor in Business Administration and Marketing in 1997.
“[During college] I spent my summers working in Ocean City, [and] met my husband here right after high school,” she said.
She then went to the University of Baltimore and earned a Master of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, with a focus on Management, Statistical Analysis, Leadership and Organization and Community Development in 2000.
Pursel and Bruce got married soon after, and, despite not being employed in the area, the pair decided that they wanted to spend their lives near Ocean City, and moved to Ocean Pines.
Pursel spent her first year of her professional life largely away from home working for the State Highway Administration, where she had interned during graduate school.
“I commuted to Baltimore City for a year,” she said, recalling how she worked remotely at the Salisbury district office on Monday and Friday, and Tuesday through Thursday she would stay with her parents in Prince George’s County.
After a year, both Pursel and her husband secured jobs in Wicomico County — he with the Board of Education and she with the Lower Shore Workforce Alliance and later for Salisbury University’s Perdue School of Business, and moved to Berlin in 2004.
Around 2007, she saw an opening for the chamber position and knew she was the perfect fit.
“I was like wow that’s something that would really match my personality and I just loved Ocean City so much,” Pursel said. “So I applied for the position, and the rest is history.”
Since then, Pursel has established herself as a leader in Ocean City, and she leaves behind an extensive legacy.
The chamber and Pursel have won awards in eight different years during her tenure as the chamber’s leader, such as the Maryland Tourism Coalition’s Industry Partnership Award in 2008, and the Maryland State Chamber Executive of the Year award in 2016.
Under her leadership, the chamber diversified its board, which had traditionally been filled with members of the hospitality industry.
Now, she said the board includes members of the construction, accounting and medical industries, as well as more women.
Pursel’s work also extends beyond the resort chamber, and she served as the president of the Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, and was a member of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce Board and the Maryland Tourism Coalition Legislative Committee.
However, one of her biggest achievements was honoring local businesswoman and philanthropist Eunice Q. Sorin, who died on April 16, 2011, she said.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to dedicate our building in memory of Eunice Q. Sorin … and the fact that we were able to do that while she was still with us and have her here when we dedicated the building … I feel was very special,” she said.
In addition to naming the visitor center after Sorin, the chamber also created a legacy wall in her memory.
Another huge accomplishment for Pursel was simply the longevity of her team — some who have worked with her since day one.
“I take great pride in the longevity of my team here,” she said. “Most of my team has been here 10, 11, 12 even 13 years under my leadership, which means a lot. That means we really got a good thing going here, and that is very special to me.”
Pursel originally never had any intentions of leaving the chamber, despite knowing the existing tourism director, Lisa Challenger, would retire soon.
That changed, however, late last year when she heard about the county’s intention to merge its tourism, economic development and parks and recreation departments, with the goal of drawing more businesses to the county and driving its tourism branding.
“That really peaked my interest. I thought this was an opportunity to really make a strong impact and so at that point I became really interested, so I put my name in the hat,” she said.
The Worcester County Commissioners issued a press release on Monday, March 2, announcing Pursel as the new tourism director, effective April 20, and Pursel said she was eager to show the world everything Worcester County had to offer.
“I really think we have so much to offer, we’re so unique and beautiful — we’re the only seaside county in Maryland,” Pursel said.
“From the beach, the estuaries, the rivers and the back bays … the scenic beauty and the small towns and the charm,” she continued. “I’m excited about learning the personalities of our towns and our county and really showing that off to everybody and encouraging people to come and experience it.”
The chamber is seeking applicants to replace Pursel’s position, which has been changed to executive director, rather than CEO/president.
To apply, submit a resume and cover letter to ED Search Committee 12320 Ocean Gateway Ocean City, Maryland 21842 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.