February 21, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Area of Focus for New Huntsville/Madison County Chamber CEO Will Be Placing More Emphasis On Small Business

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012, 10:58 AM

Chamber of Commerce CEO Chip Cherry

Chip Cherry, new Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce CEO. (The Huntsville Times/Glenn Baeske)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Donald C. "Chip" Cherry Jr.'s first job with a chamber of commerce was serving as an intern while attending North Carolina Wesleyan College.

And, for the last 30 years, he has worked with chambers in North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. On Dec. 15, he joined the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County as its president and CEO.

In introducing Cherry at a news conference in November, the chamber's 2011 chair Charlie Kettle said Cherry had discovered a passion for the chamber's mission as an intern, "and he has never wavered from that cause."

"You do have to have a passion for it," said Cherry, who was hired here after spending 10 years as president and CEO of the Greater Macon (Ga.) Chamber of Commerce, a group that was struggling financially when he arrived. He led the chamber's $2.5 million economic development initiative called Macon NOW! that helped generate almost 4,500 new jobs.

"Our challenge," he said, "is to advocate for the missions at Redstone, champion the development of small business, support the growth of both traditional and leading-edge companies and manufacturers and recruit new companies to the region which will enhance our economy.

"We are blessed with an amazing blend of companies and an astonishingly bright population. Our challenge is that we need to diversify our economic base while continuing to cultivate our core areas of expertise."

An area of focus for Cherry will be putting a greater emphasis on small business.

The small business community is "a significant part of our organization," he said, estimating that companies with 25 or fewer employees make up about 85 percent of the chamber's membership.

The chamber has partnered with the Women's Business Center of North Alabama, Alabama A&M University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to provide services to small businesses.

"We are proud of what these collaborative relationships have been able to accomplish," Cherry said, but "we believe we can do more to service our small business members."

Cherry has already started a series of "listening sessions" to learn how the chamber can serve its members more effectively. "I believe our efforts in these areas will yield positive results, which will translate to an even more dynamic regional economy."

He wants to secure a software platform to enable the chamber to collect data from existing industries to identify and analyze trends - especially labor force trends - to identify any deficiencies in skill sets so "we can be proactive in addressing those needs."

Cherry, 52, and his wife, Betty, a teacher at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon, have two children: a daughter, Julia, who's a freshman at Valdosta State, and a son, Trey, who works with BB&T in Macon.

Before leading the Macon chamber, Cherry had worked with the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce, the Fredericksburg-Stafford-Spotsylvania (Va.) Chamber and the Greenville-Pitt County (N.C.) Chamber.

He found out about the Huntsville chamber job through Eric Peterson, a managing director with Waverly Partners, the consultant for the CEO search, whom Cherry had known for years.

"This is a wonderful community, a progressive thinking community," Cherry said, explaining after last November's announcement why he was attracted to the job opportunity here. And, he sensed "a lot of energy with the (chamber) staff and volunteers."

Cherry said "wonderful decisions and investments" have been made throughout the years - from embracing Wernher von Braun and his team to building Cummings Research Park and making investments needed to facilitate BRAC - "which positioned Huntsville well for growth and prosperity.

"I want the chamber to meet and exceed the expectations of this community," he said, "and play a productive role in moving it forward."

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