Kleinschmidt wants to make a difference since he got a second chance

Mark Kleinschmidt, former president of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce

When Mark Kleinschmidt, the recently resigned president of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, was sitting in a hospital bed for 28 days last summer, he had plenty of time to think.

“Hospital beds are not meant for sleeping in. I had plenty of time to think. I even solved the North Korea problem,” he joked.

Kleinschmidt‘s daughter Allison kept him alive when he suffered a heart attack after his regular five-mile run last August. The 25-year-old nurse administered CPR for 20 minutes to save her father’s life.

“If she had not been there, I would have died,” he said. “It was just through the grace of God, fate, whatever you call it, that things went my way and I have this second chance to do something meaningful.”

Kleinschmidt suffered complications immediately after the attack. He has a clean bill of health, but he said his second chance gets driven home whenever he speaks to his doctor: “I go to the doctor and he says, ‘Hi, You know, you should be dead.’”

During more than a month away from the office, Kleinschmidt said his near-death experience gave him a sense of calm, a what-else-could-happen feeling. “After my unexpected summer vacation, I thought about what I really wanted to do after doing the chamber gig. I thought it was time to make the move.”

“After 12 years as president of the chamber we’d done a lot, and I was thinking it was time to look for something else personally and professionally satisfying and something where I’d have an opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “You get this second opportunity and you want to make the most of it.”

He’s said he’s not ready to disclose what’s up next for him, but he said it will be local. “I’m looking forward to 2018 – and all the years after that,” he said.

He left just after the organization’s move from New Castle to the Wilmington Riverfront resulted in one of its biggest membership gains in years. Membership is now stabilized at about 1000 after more than 200 new businesses joined in the past year.

The chamber has recouped many of the members it lost in 2010, when the Affordable Care Act made the affordable insurance plans available to members less of a draw. Many of its then approximately 1200 members joined only because of the insurance program that had four percent annual price increases when some other companies were experiencing 20 percent hikes, said Bob Chadwick, the former chamber vice-president who was named interim president after Kleinschmidt’s November 7 resignation.

While several members speculated the chamber may have pushed Kleinschmidt out in a cost-saving move, Chadwick and Board Chairman Tim Boulden, said Kleinschmidt’s resignation was not a cost-cutting move.

Boulden said the board is involved in budgeting and planning during the fourth quarter, and it will look at top leadership after New Year’s. Chadwick said he told board members he is interested in taking the job on a permanent basis.

Chadwick said his plan is to build on the chamber’s strengths such as lobbying, popular business education classes, events and its co-working space and small business incubator.

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