Chamber presidents skills draw on experience, vision


Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President Christine Michaels started her tenure with experience in historic preservation and waterfront development, so shes no stranger to some of the challenges facing Alexandria businesses.

In Harrisonburg, Virginia, where Michaels was president of that chamber, a historic seed factory was redeveloped as an upscale restaurant and apartments, similar to projects in this area. This is something shes prepared to work with here in Alexandria, where the historic fabric of the city needs to be maintained.
Ive seen those things come to fruition and theyve worked wonderfully, she said.

Michaels started in her new position on April 14 and was hit with several new challenges including a loss of staff members, the waterfront development, the smoking ban in restaurants and advocacy with the city government.

Michaels has had experience with waterfront redevelopment at another chamber in Amsterdam, NY, on the Mohawk River, which was one reason why Michaels was picked for the job. They thought that was a good fit, she said.

Shawn McLaughlin, the vice chair of special events at the chamber, was one of nine people on the committee that was responsible for finding new candidates back in October of 2006 when the previous president, Ken Moore, announced he was leaving. Her waterfront experience, coupled with historic development, were part of their decision.

We thought she was a well rounded candidate, McLaughlin said.

Loves it here
Michaels earned a degree in public relations at Empire State College in New York, and worked as a business reporter until she was picked up by the chamber of commerce in Troy, NY. From there  she went on to be the director of another chamber in upstate New York, and then to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she was director of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce for 5 years before coming to Alexandria.

From what she had heard, the area was dominated by traffic but upon arrival, shes developed a different impression. This city is the exception, she said, this area has so much potential, Im really loving it here.

Currently, shes living in temporary housing while she sells her Harrisonburg home, and brought her bicycle along to take advantage of the many trails in Alexandria. In addition to biking, Michaels likes history, gardening and journalism. I still dabble in that, she said. The whole connection with George Washington was a big draw, she added.

A couple of projects shes working on now have to do with a redevelopment project in the Braddock Road Metro station area and the National Harbor project. With the National Harbor and the Alexandria waterfront area, there are many things to consider such as transportation, lighting, maps and restrooms. Theres a whole scope of things, she said.

Michaels wants the chamber as a resource businesses can rely on to get the latest information on Alexandria.

Thats what theyre looking to us for, were doing all the research so they dont have to, Michaels said.