Almost 900 people attended the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s 178th Annual Dinner on Jan. 12 – the highest chamber dinner attendance in the 21st Century. The dinner also drew more sponsorships.
The crowd was dotted with 78 elected and appointed officials and Delaware’s entire Congressional legislation. Speakers included Gov. Jack Markell, Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney Jr.
Board member Michael Houghton, who chaired the dinner committee, was awarded the first A.R. Morris Board Member Award for his work with the chamber.
Houghton, a partner at Morris, Nichols, Arsht and Tunnell, gave the credit for the turnout to the chamber staff, his committee members, and the work the chamber has been doing.
“In the last year, the chamber has been working on legislative issue in a high-profile way,” he said. “They’ve been engaging businesspeople on issues, and that builds relevancy and it builds numbers and enthusiasm among the membership.”
Mark Stellini, owner of Assurance Media and chairman of the chamber’s board, credited Houghton, Heffron and executive assistant Cheryl Corn for the turnout.
“Mike was using his connections, driving up the numbers, doing what we needed to do. This is a major fundraiser for the chamber,” Stellini said. “Behind the scenes, he expanded who was going to be there and what we were going to ask for, and that’s the kind of leadership you need.”
Stellini said the chamber’s young professional group helped drive numbers up among the state’s younger businesspeople. “We need to get a younger chamber, instead of a bunch of old guys like me. That’s one of our missions right now.”
When Chamber President A. Richard Heffron, the chamber’s longtime lobbyist and sometimes-interim president, was chosen to lead the chamber last March, two of his priorities were to make the chamber relevant to businesses and to increase revenue.
Heffron opened the annual dinner with a call for businesspeople do something to improve their home state –mentor a student, be a principal for a day or join a chamber committee.
“Our economy is not where we would like it to be. The violence in the city of Wilmington while not always acknowledged, is still a major program,” Heffron said. “We have a lot of important decisions to make and a lot of hard problems to solve, but, together, I am sure we will get where we have to be. When President John Kennedy talked about the space program he said, We don’t do these things because they’re easy. We do them because they are hard.”
The keynote speaker was Dr. Janice Nevin, CEO of Christiana Care Health System.
The chamber, the largest business organization in the state, was founded as the Wilmington Board of Trade in 1837. Through legislative lobbying, small business benefits, it promotes Delaware’s economic climate.