From the Desk of the President

Letter from the President

Susan Garnett SpearsPresident & CEO of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce 

June 2018 

 

A Chamber’s role is different in every community. With no national or state creed that we must follow, we are able to shape our program of work to best reflect the needs of our ever-evolving membership. Here, we represent businesses all throughout our region, which includes the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, & Caroline, along with the city of Fredericksburg. What a footprint! We represent over 900 businesses that employee more than 35,000 workers. The majority of our members are small businesses with needs that vary from access to networking, workforce training, leadership development, and advocacy.

 

Chambers and associations across the country have been challenged with many of the same issues you have faced in your business. How do we keep up with technology, which seems to change every couple of months? How do we tell our story – which is your story - in a market that is flooded with pop up ads, text messages, videos, and social media alarmists? How do we compete with small networking groups that are filling various small niches that we have traditionally hosted?

 

In our case, the answer is as old as time. It’s all about you – the Chamber businesses that make up our membership. What matters to you and your business? What can we do to better represent and support you? I started a member “listening tour” in 2017, sitting down with as many members as I could fit into my schedule. Every meeting was valuable as I learned first-hand about your successes, your struggles, and what you need from us. This year I will meet with more of you, as will members of our team. We have already made important adjustments to some 2018 plans based on your feedback and we will continue to do so. We are excited to hear from you, and to share details about new and improved areas. Please know that you can always reach out to me with whatever is on your mind. Email me at susan@fxbgchamber.org or call me at 540-373-9400. I look forward to working with you in what promises to be our best year, ever!  

 

September 2017

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have referenced this quote regularly over a long period of time. Indeed, Dr. King’s simple words have had a profound impact on my life. They inspired me to become active in my community after years of work, friends, home, family, and repeat. I became involved with local policy issues and ultimately led several all-volunteer teams that supported Mayor Tom Tomzak’s first victory. I then started a local non-profit called MORE – Multicultural OutReach Effort. MORE’s mission was to improve race relations in the city of Fredericksburg. Dr. King’s quote was our tagline as we kept the dream alive for 10 years before disbanding.

Not long after starting MORE and leading Tom’s campaign, I was hired away from the retail industry to work at the Chamber of Commerce. I was over the moon with my new job. Now, I would work for an organization that mattered, and I could live the quote, every day! I write this on the eve of my 13th year with the Chamber. At times, being a Chamber CEO is exhausting. We host hundreds of events each year, I’m asked to attend, lead, or participate in nearly as many, and I serve on several additional boards. As my husband will tell you, it is a lot to balance, and sometimes my balance is way off. I work too much. But, I love, let me repeat, love, love what I do. I love our members. I love our staff. I love our community. I love our Commonwealth. I love our country.

But, this year, I slowed down enough to take some time for reflection. Two things became very clear: I was determined for the Chamber to have a community conversation about civility, and I made up my mind to get back in shape.

Our civility event occurs on September 6, so you may be reading this after it occurs. At this time, I can think of nothing more important for us to address because we are in a national communication crisis. We are talking at each other, or about each other, yet we are not talking with each other, especially when our views differ. Opposing views are shut down.  The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is under attack, and our civilized society is crumbling around us. We hide behind the cloak of social media and throw rocks – big ugly rocks – at perfect strangers as well as lifelong friends. There is no safety zone; all bets are off.

The Chamber does the right thing for the right reasons. We are saying: enough. We are taking a stand for civility. The Fredericksburg region’s business community is strong and will only grow stronger as we work together to ensure that we remain a peaceful, thoughtful, and respectful community.

Finally, I am proud of my friends and former MORE board members, Xavier Richardson and Teri McNally, for the positive changes they have made in their lives. Like Xavier, I started walking this year, but not in earnest until this summer.  I was tired of not looking or feeling my best, and one day, just like that, I started to use my Fitbit. I’m currently averaging 16,000 steps per day. My blood pressure is better, and the scale is showing small improvements. I’m thinking more clearly, sleeping better, and best of all, starting to feel like myself again. I’ve chosen not be silent about this very personal journey because, well, it matters. If I can inspire you to get up and to move, I’ve done my job. If I can inspire you to take a stand for civility, I have done my job. I hope you enjoy this issue and I look forward to seeing you soon! 


 

 May 2017

No Regrets, Leadership Fredericksburg is time well spent

I can hardly believe the Chamber is about to graduate its tenth Leadership Fredericksburg class this month! What was once a dream of a few outstanding Chamber leaders is now a concrete reality that is making a magnificent impact on our region. Ten years flew by in a minute; surely it was only yesterday when we welcomed the first participants to Leadership Fredericksburg…yet when I look at my calendar, I have to recognize time has marched on since we launched on September 21, 2007.

At the time, Leadership Fredericksburg’s future success was a mere vision of our Leadership Advisory Board, expertly led by founding chairman Joe Dangler. Sure, we had just spent a year and a half creating and funding the program, but we had no idea if the concept we put in place would genuinely take flight in our region. We asked ourselves, will people want to travel around the entire area? Will we be able to find suitable mentors to match each participant? Will the facilitators we hired live up to our expectations? Will our speakers do what we ask, and share unique stories that have led them to be the successful leaders we know today? Will our sponsors believe their money was well spent? Will we be able to engage a new class year after year and make them see what we love so much about our community?

As you can see, the questions were plentiful. Moreover, they stay with us, ever present, today. Indeed; our constant quest for excellence can be daunting. However, our Advisory Board and sponsors have demonstrated such a tremendous level of passion and commitment to the program that year after year we have grown better and better. Strong early support from Mary Washington Healthcare as the Title Sponsor ensured our ability to financially grow the program, but what you might not know is that Fred Rankin, then MWHC’s President and CEO, met with each class. MWHC’s current President and CEO, Dr. Michael McDermott, has also made it a priority to meet with the class. These two business leaders demonstrate the very best of community leadership.

Often when I am talking to someone who is interested in the program, they will tell me, “I am just too busy right now,” or sometimes I even hear, “I am already a leader, I do not need to take another program.” Thank heavens Atlantic Builders President Tom Schoedel LF ’14 did not feel that way, nor did Fredericksburg Christian Schools Superintendent Rick Yost LF ’08. Rappahannock United Way’s President, Janel Donohue LF ’08 is a grad, as is Kevin Dillard LF ’16, president and founder of LifeCare Medical Transports.

I have been fortunate to serve as Leadership Fredericksburg’s Executive Director since it was a simple idea of ours back in 2006. Today, I admit to feeling a profound amount of pride as I prepare to watch another outstanding group of leaders end their formal journey with us. I am joyous at the mere thought of the next group of leaders that will join us. Thanks to a terrific group of many, many leaders, Leadership Fredericksburg not only happened but remains a vibrant program today.

We are accepting applications for the 2018 class from May 1 – July 1, 2017. Check out our website or call us if you are interested. Don’t wait until the time is right. Your leadership future is now! Join the premier network of leaders in the Fredericksburg Region. I promise you will not regret it.


April 2017

 

Save Your Business Some Green

In recent years, the media has focused on environmental practices of large corporations, bypassing smaller businesses and their impact on the environment. In reality, small businesses make up more than 90 percent of all companies in the United States.  This number is reflective of the business community in our region. Just like the large corporations, these small businesses play a vital role in protecting our environment.

And while small nonprofit businesses like your Chamber may individually use fewer resources and emit less waste, cumulatively we – joined with you – are a force when it comes to environmentalism.

Today, your Chamber continues to join the other 27 million small businesses that have taken the first steps toward turning their companies green.

Since Chamber staff first “took the plunge” in 2011, we have:

  • Installed water filters/purchased pitchers for our office
  • Eliminated the use of bottled water
  • Upgraded to online event registration and other payment methods to reduce paper waste
  • Committed to turning off all office lights when not in use, saving on electricity
  • Converted all membership records from paper to “the cloud”
  • Expanded and promoted our recycling efforts
  • Joined and promoted “Virginia Green”
  • Participated in and helped at Rappahannock River Clean Ups
  • Handled all meeting packages electronically, eliminating paper waste
  • Partnered with Marstel-Day and Stafford Printing to present a “Green Business Award,” which later morphed into the
  • Green Business Challenge, now in its second year
  • Allowed no Styrofoam cups! Our three conference rooms are furnished with ‘logo’ mugs from our members (drop a few by if you haven’t already done so! You never know who will learn about your business while in our office.)

We established the Green Business Action Committee in 2011. Chaired by Rebecca Rubin, president of Marstel-Day, this group’s mission from the start has been to work with the Chamber to lead and engage the business community in green initiatives.

GBAC pledged to help companies develop more web-based resources, conduct educational programs and provide green networking opportunities. We’ve done that, and much more – yet there is still much to be done. This magazine demonstrates our continued commitment to promoting the importance of green business practices and our environment.  Your Chamber is living proof that one person, one business can make a difference. Help us in this process of change, and together, we will transform the world…or at least our magnificent Fredericksburg Region.


 

The New Year Brings Signs of Hope and a Fresh Start

By Susan Spears, President & CEO of Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce 

1-9-17

For many years now businesses in our region have struggled: first, we had the Great Recession, which let's face it, we still haven’t fully recovered. This horrible business-killer followed by sequestration, which caused significant economic losses for Virginia. All throughout, burdensome federal regulations have grown to such heights that business owners would rather walk away than keep fighting to keep their doors open. Entrepreneurial dreams never take flight; educational certifications are just out of reach for individuals trying to make ends meet.

And yet as we enter this new year, I see signs of hope. New businesses are starting up; areas of our region are undergoing revitalizations. Our friends in the financial sector are seeing more stability and are even reporting modest increases in activity. Virginia is ever so slowly starting to diversify it’s economy away from federal contracting. Does this mean that all is rosy and a boom has begun? No…but these signs do give us hope for the future.

To that end, the chamber’s mission is to build relationships and create competitive advantages for a healthy business environment. That means doing everything in our power to help you, our loyal customers, succeed. We do this in part through the variety of networking and educational events and partly through marketing opportunities available only to chamber members. We also represent you when we meet with government officials at the local, state and federal levels to enact policies that make it easier for businesses to expand and hire new employees. Our RTAC (Regional Transportation Action Committee) made great strides for desperately needed transportation improvements that affect us all. You may never attend an event, but you can rest assured that your membership investment is working hard for you.

As 2017 gets underway, I am more confident than ever about the future of our economy, and our wonderful community. The chamber staff and board of directors are eager to work with you to make this a prosperous New Year. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get started. Let’s go!


 

 

Chamber’s Military Affairs Council continues to play a vital role


It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since we hosted our first Military Affairs Council (MAC) event in October of 2006. The sold out “Report to the Community” event drew a crowd of more than 150. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis provided keynote remarks, stating “the Fredericksburg region’s business and civic leaders must remain vigilant in order to protect the military installations that have long helped drive the area’s economy.”

For the first time, Chamber members had the chance to get to know leaders from the region’s military bases – Col. Charles A. Dallachie, commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico; Capt. Judy Smith, installation commanding officer, Naval Support Activity South Potomac; and Lt. Col. Michael S. Graese, commander, Fort A.P. Hill. At the end of the night, I vividly recall hauling supplies to my car long after everyone was gone. I heard familiar voices engaged in a friendly conversation nearby in the parking lot. There stood Col. Dallachie and Lt. Col Graese, having connected at our event. I am certain a strong relationship developed that night - thanks to the Chamber’s new MAC.

The MAC formed in August 2006 under the capable leadership of Ted Hontz, Vice President of BCI (Basic Commerce & Industries, Inc.). Hontz, a retired Navy Captain with 28 years of active-duty service, was also a former commanding officer for the Aegis Training and Readiness Center at Dahlgren. In September 21, 2006, article published by the South Potomac Pilot, Hontz stated, “the Chamber put together a strong program for BRAC (Base Realignment & Closure ’05) that drew together people from many areas across the community. But, we had to start from scratch the MAC will help us as a community to be better prepared and postured to support all the military installations through scrutiny by future BRAC commissions…our broader responsibility and the long-standing mission will be to support the business community as it relates to area military bases.”

A lot has changed in our region over the past ten years, but the MAC’s mission has not, nor has the Chamber’s strong support for its MAC. It is rewarding to look back at our beginnings and to continue to see so many of our original founders deeply connected to the MAC.  At the same time, we enthusiastically look ahead to an even brighter MAC future for our region. Sequestration knocked us to our knees, but it certainly did not stop us. Another BRAC rumored for 2017. We will be standing ready, prepared to advocate for our defense bases, commands, and installations in the region, and in doing so, we will support the interests of the military, military families, the local defense industry and the region as a whole. Special thanks to all of the amazing individuals and businesses that have been with us for the first ten years.  Let’s make the next ten even better!


 

 

Thinking about Leadership Fredericksburg?

The time is now!

 When Leadership Fredericksburg graduates its ninth class this month, we will have more than 200 alumni members interwoven throughout our community. From the moment you pick up your May/June copy of Fredericksburg Regional Business, you will see multiple layers that describe why this matters to the Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve had the great fortune of being along for the leadership ride since its inception – since the very moment when I was charged with ‘going out and starting a Chamber leadership program.’ As a relatively new employee, that directive was a daunting task - yet one that was easy to accomplish after I made a few phone calls.  I quickly gained support from business leaders that had been involved in earlier, smaller leadership offerings by our Chamber. Now – in 2006 – we wanted to create a sustainable nine-month program that would have a measurable impact on our community. The Leadership Advisory Board was born, and boy, did we ever succeed!

Thanks to the early buy-in from one of the area’s largest and most influential employers, Mary Washington Healthcare, we were able to bring others on board as we began this new venture officially in the fall of 2007. For many years we ran the program with a consulting team based in another state, leadershipForward. Greg Hiebert was instrumental in our development and growth as he brought us leadership content, assessment tools, and an extraordinarily uplifting personality that made every class “Fellow” feel good. Eventually, we were ready to take lessons learned and shift the program to a fully local model.

J.R. Flatter, Ph.D. and Dave Corderman, Ph.D., are two local leaders with advanced degrees in leadership development. They are active in the Chamber, and they’re involved with the program in varying ways for many years. Both were willing to contribute their time and talents to take Leadership Fredericksburg through its next phase.

We are now finishing up our first year as a team, and I am pleased to inform you both will be with us again to lead the 2017 class. 

  • May 12 – Nonprofit Project Presentations (3 PM at the Fick Conference Center)
  • May 20 – Graduation & Reception (3 PM at UMW Stafford Campus)
  • May 25 – 2017 Class Information Session (8:30 AM at the Chamber office).

If you have not yet become involved with our signature program, the time is now. Consider your unique talents – Can you serve as a program mentor? Should your nonprofit consider applying for a project partnership? Maybe you want to support the program as a sponsor – it’s an incredible way to give back to your community.

Or perhaps now is the time for you to encourage a member of your organization to apply for the upcoming class, or… consider applying yourself. Leadership Fredericksburg is for leaders from all stages of their professional and community leadership journey – from company presidents, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, to young supervisors.

The criterion is a proven track record of demonstrable leadership, which is much more than a simple title. That’s why we are competitive, and that’s why this program is challenging. Leadership Fredericksburg is for the best and brightest in our community. Is that you? If so, the time is now! Applications for the 2017 class will accept from May 1-July 1, 2016.

I am proud to serve as your Chamber’s president, and I am proud to serve as Executive Director for Leadership Fredericksburg. If you have questions about our signature program, please contact me at
(540) 373-9400 or susan@fredericksburgchamber.org.

Susan Spears is president & CEO of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce. May 2016


 

 

Taking a Stand for Transportation

Susan Spears, CEO/President

By Susan Spears

Members of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce are exhausted by constant gridlock. We are frustrated by spending too much time in traffic and not enough time tending to our businesses and even better, at home. While there has been some progress, we seek even more leadership at all policy levels to champion transportation solutions. When we all work together, the business community can produce an unyielding declaration that the Fredericksburg region will not rest until we have solutions to our transportation crisis.

The Chamber will continue to take a stand for transportation projects that are critical to the prosperity and safety of residents and business owners in Planning District 16, which includes the City of Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

The Chamber’s Regional Transportation Action Committee (RTAC) has already been very active in 2016 with committee meetings, reaching out to the community, growing our relationship with the Fredericksburg Area MPO as well as meeting with Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, Congressman Rob Wittman, and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam.

RTAC presented our transportation priorities to our federal leaders at a February meeting in Washington. Both the Senators and Congressman Wittman were in support of the Chamber’s positions. They agreed to aid in the search for additional federal transportation funding. All committed to meet with our Chamber members at a Community Conversations event in Fredericksburg this year.

Your Chamber will continue to urge our legislators to take action regarding our transportation crisis. Nevertheless, we need the community’s help in order to remain on their radars. Please reach out to your local legislators, share your stories with us, and attend our transportation events and meetings to interact with our elected officials. These actions allow us to better advocate for you and your business.

Our next transportation event will be held on March 10 at 8:00 AM at the Fredericksburg Country Club. “Our Transportation Crisis” will feature Congressman Rob Wittman and an informal panel discussion with the Congressman, Hap Connors of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and Paul Agnello, FAMPO Administrator.

I encourage you to attend this event and ask questions of our legislators. Share your frustrations with them and demand that they take action. Remember – together – we can create a better business environment for our Community and for the Commonwealth. Contact the Chamber to make your voice heard!

Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce. March 2016