Written by Robin Minnick
On March 24, the Greater Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce announced a new CEO and president would be taking position in April. Once Christine Michaels has completed her move from Florida to Fayetteville, she will step into her new role heading up the Chamber.
While she brings nearly 20 years’ experience of association management with further background in communications economic development, and government relations, one of the most important assets she brings to Fayetteville is prior experience with three chambers associated with a strong military presence. She comes here from the Greater Brandon Florida Chamber, which supports MacDill Air Force Base, but she has also served at the Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida, and the Alexandria, Va., chamber. Her experience in these locations make her uniquely qualified to lead the Greater Fayetteville Chamber.
Ms. Michaels generously made time during her busy moving process to answer a few of ARRAY’s questions.
ARRAY: What do you see as essential to helping the two communities, civilian and military, work together as self-sufficient partners to mutual benefit?
Ms. Michaels: I think open communication is essential to a strong working relationship between the military and the business/civilian world. I have found the relationship becomes strongest when the military is kept aware of community efforts to support their personnel, and finds a welcoming environment such as Fayetteville. And likewise, when members of a military installation serve side by side with community groups and offer briefings and ways for non-military to become involved, as is most welcome!
ARRAY: You have noted elsewhere that when you became head of the Greater Brandon Florida Chamber, you “reorganized everything.” From what you’ve seen so far, do you think you will need to do that here?
Ms. Michaels: I have been very impressed with the direction of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber. I think we are in a growth mode, and ready to work closely with other organizations in the community. I also think that we are returning to our roots, that is our members, and will be offering programs to help them succeed in business. I see myself as someone who can bring best practices, experience and new ideas to a chamber that is ready to be active!
ARRAY: In a quote to the Chamber, you mentioned being impressed by their enthusiasm and determination to move forward. What else do you see that our city has going for it, in terms of the future?
Ms. Michaels: I was recently told that there are states who do not have the benefit of having a community as large as Fayetteville to call their own. The sheer size of the city, county and surrounding areas and the constant influx from the post make this a vibrant area. The cultural offerings, festivals and events, the Crown Complex, the new baseball stadium, Civil War museum and other resources which are planned will add to the area’s “destination” appeal. More importantly, it seems as though the people and community leaders want the city to be a leader in the state and to be prosperous and thrive. It’s usually attitude and determination which can overcome any challenges to get there.
The mission of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber is to “be a catalyst in growing a healthy business community through its advocacy of business friendly public policy, the fostering of diverse innovative business initiatives, through strong collaborative partnerships and delivering valuable programs and services to our members.” As the transition begins and interim CEO Darsweil Rogers steps back, the question arises: How will this change affect the Chamber’s mission?
Along with her experience with other chambers, Ms. Michaels brings ideas from the national association and her colleagues, as well as best practices. She says, “I think our membership will be pleased once I am able to get feedback and assess what our members really want and need.”
Michaels sees her previous work at the regional level as valuable in helping the Fayetteville Chamber increase its role as advocate and leader in the dialogue between other community organizations and individuals to help bring them together in pursuit of common goals.
“I look forward to getting to know the entities and people in the Cumberland County/Fayetteville area so that we can find our common ground,” she says.
Currently Ms. Michaels is busy with the herculean task of packing up to move and finding a new home. Eventually she will be joined in Fayetteville by her nonagenarian mother and the four-legged portion of her household. Ms. Michaels is actively involved in animal rescue work. She has mostly cats right now, but she’s taken in dogs and farm animals, too. It’s been her passion for many years. History, the arts, and gardening are among her other interests. That’s good, because there’s a wealth of all of that here.
And she’s ready for it. “I hope to engage in local groups as soon as I get acclimatized,” she says.
Ms. Michaels paints a refreshing picture of a city leader who is accessible, involved, enthusiastic, and eager to engage. Her background cites tested and proven ability, and it includes experience uniquely pertinent to Fayetteville’s needs. Her “final answer” highlights what she is offering our city.
ARRAY: Finally, what do you see as your personal strengths, both as a person and as our new Chamber of Commerce CEO?
Ms. Michaels: I am by nature a humble person, but if pressed to give my strengths I’d say they include being both a big idea person but also being practical enough to chart a course to make that idea a reality; and I am a patriotic and loyal person who sets high ethical standards; and I am a “straight shooter.”
Seems right on target.