New chamber CEO reflects on challenges, opportunities ahead

New chamber CEO reflects on challenges, opportunities ahead

By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

From the offices of United Way Worldwide on North Fairfax Street where he serves as executive vice president and chief operating officer, Joseph Haggerty looks across the Potomac River and sees a tremendous opportunity for Alexandria as the new MGM casino is built at National Harbor.

To the north is Potomac Yard, which is slated for the construction of a new Metro station and commercial development. And in the Carlyle/Eisenhower East neighborhood, he sees great potential with the construction of the National Science Foundation.

Those and numerous other projects in the city excite Haggerty, who was announced as the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce’s new CEO last month, replacing the retiring John Long. As well as for professional reasons, Haggerty said he has a personal justification for agreeing to be the chamber’s new CEO.

“I travel a lot and I have a couple of kids and I thought this might give me a little more time not being in an airport on a Friday night at 10 p.m.,” he said. “I think the chamber has a lot of meetings and you’re probably out every night, but you’re not stuck at Dallas-Fort Worth airport on a Friday night. I think it will feel better to be involved in the local stuff that’s happening here, and also I’ll be running my own show.”

The New England native comes into his new role with the chamber having started at United Way as an intern while completing his master’s degree at the University of Connecticut.

He was president at United Way regional offices in St. Joseph, Mich., St. Paul, Minn.; Phoenix; Corpus Christi, Texas; and in Los Angeles, and has been based in Alexandria for a decade. The organization is a nonprofit focused on fundraising, volunteering and advocacy to improve lives across the world through education, income and health.

Haggerty has been a volunteer with the chamber since 2009, and has served on its board of directors and several of its committees, including the government relations committee, which outlines the chamber’s legislative agenda for city council.

The MGM casino at National Harbor excites him as it takes shape across the Potomac River. Scheduled to open next year and to include a luxury hotel, restaurants, retail and a 3,000-seat entertainment venue among other amenities, he is hopeful the city can capitalize on the expected influx of visitors.

“You look across the river, that’s a $1 billion casino,” Haggerty said. “They’re going to have all kinds of stuff going on over there, and they’re so close, even though it’s in another state. I think there’s a lot of great things we can do together, and the folks from MGM seem very interested in that, so how do you make it a win-win for them and for Alexandria.”

Meanwhile, Potomac Yard has been a big point of emphasis for the chamber, which listed the approval of a Metro station as its No. 1 priority in its 2015 legislative agenda. After council voted to move forward with the project in May, Haggerty said the chamber hopes to see the station and area developed and open as quickly as possible.

“I think one of the challenges with Potomac Yard is it’s been on the drawing board for a long time and [for] a number of people, people buying those condos and a lot of commercial people want the Metro to be there to make it work economically,”

Haggerty said. “I think what we’re urging right now is that it move as fast as possible, understanding that some studies have to be done, and that [although] they’ve had three or four sites, they’ve agreed on one now. So let’s get on with it, because even building the station is going to take a year and a half to two years.”

One project well on its way to completion is the new NSF headquarters, set to open in 2017 and bring 2,100 employees from its current location in Ballston. Haggerty said there are immense possibilities in that area, and the chamber is looking to cooperate with a variety of partners to help further commercial development.

“You make an opportunity out of it,” he said. “You meet with NSF, see what they want and what’s going to work for them, [and] what’s going to work for the staff that’s going to be there coming in every day. The chamber is not going to do it alone; we’re going to have to work with other partners. I think you pull people together and you try to make it work as best you can, and you turn the risk into opportunity.”

That cooperation is something Haggerty said the chamber will do regularly under his leadership, not only with city council but with residents’ groups. Haggerty is also hopeful of bringing a younger crowd into the chamber and to its events and embracing a new generation of business leaders in Alexandria.

“I think you want to bring the new leadership into the chamber, you want to recognize people and you want to start to get them to those business events,” he said. “If you’re not careful in a chamber, the average age of your people going to your meetings can be older, and we’ve got to work with the millennials, we’ve got to get younger people and younger leadership involved.”