By Camisha L. Jones
Danielle Fitz-Hugh is the first Black President and CEO of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.
Though her focus is on the entire business community, she says it is a “tremendous opportunity and sense of pride” for her to be the first Black person in that role within a city that is 83% Black.
As President, Fitz-Hugh serves the Petersburg area (including Fort Lee) to advance the Chamber’s mission to “establish itself as the primary resource for business in Petersburg by fostering business growth, educating its members and the community, and advocating legislation to influence public policy.” The Chamber’s top priorities are to “support a strong business climate in the city; develop a comprehensive and effective marketing and fund development; and be a positive advocate for business in the city and at the state level.” The many resources the Chamber provides to its members include a regional membership directory and buyers guide, networking events, a newsletter, and event advertising. Describing her passion for the work she does, Fitz-Hugh states, “Chamber work – it’s service. You’re working with your members to help them to do more business, to meet more people…That’s my sweet spot: providing service…”
A Fluvanna native, Fitz-Hugh began her tenure as President and CEO in September 2011, transitioning from her previous role as Vice President of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce. Her legacy in Charlottesville includes two initiatives designed to support business women. Under her leadership in Charlottesville, the Chamber’s monthly women’s round table grew from a group of 8-10 participants to one which attracts 40-50 people each month. Fitz-Hugh also cultivated a day-long women’s business conference called Quadruplicity, now headed into its 6th year, which draws over 200 participants annually. The conference focuses on balancing career, life, money and health. It provides attendees with opportunities for education, networking, personal growth, mentoring, and leadership development.
Fitz-Hugh believes in the value of educating herself. She is a graduate of Piedmont Virginia Community College who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Averett University. Reflecting on her career which has included a significant amount of time in the hospitality and banking industries, Fitz-Hugh says, “I try to learn from everything…Even early on….Any time there was a class to come up, I was taking it.” Her thirst for knowledge landed her in the role of general manager of a hotel at the ripe age of 23.
“I don’t know who it was but somebody always told me long time ago that if you have a job figure out all of it. All of it. Whether it was your responsibility or not. Whatever your job is, you figure out how to do all of it. Not that it will make you indispensible but that way you know how to pick up the pieces when somebody else leaves,” explains Fitz-Hugh. So, while volunteering for over 10 years with the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce, she took time to get to know the many aspects of the tasks she took on. When people left the organization, Fitz-Hugh was the first to come to mind and in time she found herself in the position of Vice President of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce.
Reflecting on her involvement in Chamber work, Fitz-Hugh states: “I was a Chamber volunteer while in the private sector for over a decade as well as a recipient of several Chamber programs so my love of Chamber work (came) with my professional involvement…I was a Chamber fan, working for members in a volunteer capacity, helping members grow and be successful.”
She is enthusiastic about her ability to do the same in Petersburg. In an interview last fall on “Speaking with Andrea Copeland,” a Positive Channels talk show in Charlottesville, Fitz-Hugh described Petersburg as “on the cusp of something great” pointing out the city’s downtown redevelopment and its new transit center, public library, superintendent and city manager. The city’s high unemployment rate and struggling education system only made the position more attractive to Fitz-Hugh. Considering what she might contribute in the role of President and CEO, she told Copeland, “I’m excited…I’m hoping to have a little bit of a footprint. To go down there and put my stamp on it and see what I can do.”
Her confidence is not only in her abilities but also in her belief that the work done by a city’s Chamber of Commerce has the ability to influence and improve the overall quality of life of that community. She says, “If we as Chambers help our members build their business then in return those enterprises can re-invest and build our communities.” According to Fitz-Hugh, one of the ways that a Chamber does this is by being a “a collective voice of like minded enterprises” whose work ultimately helps to improve the economy, legislation, productivity, education system, and quality of the workforce.
Discussing the role of Chamber sponsored events that are typically popular, Fitz-Hugh says, “Those heavily attended meet and greet programs, after hours, golf tournaments, trade shows, ribbon cuttings, round table discussions, educational workshops…(are) critical to survival for enterprises to build relationships. That is the work Chambers are known for. There is also a whole other component of Chamber work that is vital to the economic sustainability of every community.”
Fitz-Hugh explains this relationship between the role of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and economic sustainability, stating: “Our Chamber’s focus is to help our member enterprise grow through a variety of capacities to drive economic vitality including: public policy awareness, networking and relationship building, educational development and community opportunities. We work for our Chamber members and what drives their success.”
For more information on the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, visit http://petersburgvachamber.com/.