“That’s what I want to do,” he told his dad and grandfather, who cautioned the young Heffron to first get a regular job.
Fast forward nearly 60 years, and Heffron — on the cusp of retirement from the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce — got the regular job and a generous helping of politics thrown in for good measure.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Heffron cut his political teeth working as an intern on Joe Biden’s Senate campaign in 1972. He finished law school, and worked as a lobbyist for the City of Wilmington before a 25-year career at the chamber, its president for four.
His June retirement will also mark specific accomplishments at the DSCC, according to Heffron. Those include making the chamber “more relevant to the legislative side of things” like the Coastal Zone Act reform, and the formation of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership to spur economic development.
Outside of the chamber, Heffron concedes that Delaware is much different than it was a decade ago.
“This is not the Delaware I once knew,” said Heffron, of the changes at DuPont and the exit of companies like Chrysler. “Those are the bigger changes, and that kind of change happened because we weren’t paying attention. The global corporate structure was changing, and we didn’t adjust to it. “Now we’re adjusting because we have to.”
Those adjustments to Delaware’s changing corporate and manufacturing landscape were punctuated by the 2008 recession, which forced the chamber to streamline its workforce from 22 employees to 11 in an effort to stabilize.
“We had to do that — we had to reorganize,” said Heffron, who counts loyalty among his staff as key. “But we’re as productive or more productive than we ever were.”
The DSCC also changed the governance structure, reducing its board of directors from 52 to 15.
Embracing change — and encouraging members to do the same — was another win for the chamber and for Heffron.
“Flexibility should define the next few decades as Delaware adapts to a new economy of entrepreneurialism,” he said, praising the Markell and Carney administrations with landing two of the three major DuPont spinoffs and planning for tomorrow’s job force through education strategies like the Delaware Pathways program.
This month, Heffron comes full circle. He’ll host the chamber’s 181st annual dinner, with a keynote address from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. In June, he’ll retire from the DSCC, and he’s already hammered out a list of things to do.
“I made a list of 22 things I want to do — some are fun and some are those things you have to get done,” said Heffron, who added he won’t stray far. “Delaware is my home. I love it here.”