CDCC President, small business champion Judy Diogo to retire
DOVER — For 17 years, Judy Diogo has been the face of central Delaware businesses, big and small.
She’s been advocating on their behalf on bills in the General Assembly, organizing mixers and community events, and in the last year, rallying for businesses as they struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic.
But come the new year, Diogo and her relentless drive to support local businesses will be leaving the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce (CDCC). She will step down from the president position, as agreed in a five-year transition plan she created with the CDCC Board of Directors in 2017. Her last day is Dec. 31.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I want to slow things down and enjoy time with the special people in my life, including my family and my grandchildren,” Diogo told the Delaware Business Times. “I loved every second of my work, and I have met some truly exceptional people. But you get to a point in life when you know it’s time to move on.”
Diogo, a native of Houston, Del., has always kept her work close to home. She worked at the Milford Chamber of Commerce for a decade and later served as director of development at Kent-Sussex Industries, a not-for-profit vocational rehabilitation organization. In 2005, she became the president of the director of the CDCC, which serves businesses in Dover and the neighboring towns.
Under her leadership, the CDCC flourished and expanded its impact on the Dover-area business community, naming the chamber as an essential resource for business development. The CDCC membership grew 40% under her tenure, reaching a goal of 1,000 members in 2015.
Today, Diogo estimates that membership numbers hovers a little more than 800, noting that between April 2020 and June 2021 more than 50 businesses have closed their doors. She estimates that another 30 may not be having their financial needs met.
Diogo also devoted much energy to raising the prestige of the CDCC, which was already accredited with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when she arrived. But in 2008, the chamber achieved three-star accreditation, and in 2013 and 2018, it reached five stars. Five stars is the highest designation offered, making the CDCC among the top 4% of all chambers in the nation.
“That was very important to me, because an accreditation is almost like an internal audit,” Diogo said. “It’s looking at what services and programs you’re offering, the best practices out there. It’s measuring the chamber against all others — so I really wanted the CDCC to strive to be the best out there. It’s huge that we are a five-star accredited chamber.”
Among other achievements, Diogo is proud of the creation of the Kent County Open for Business Program, which offers free business development sessions with various organizations to those who are looking at opening or expanding a business. Since the program launched in 2011, it hosted 760 participants and helped 37 businesses. The program has since expanded across Delaware.
Diogo also shepherded continued success for Leadership Central Delaware (LCD), a program that offers professionals an inside look at Kent County’s economy and top business leaders. She established an alumni program to cultivate connections in central Delaware, and earlier this year it announced a partnership with Leadership Delaware.
Looking back on the biggest challenges in her career, Diogo said that COVID-19 and the constant ramifications on businesses tops them all.
“By and large, it was the hardest thing we had to work through, from sitting in calls with the governor’s office and getting our members with the up-to-date guidance to linking our members up with the right agency when they needed assistance,” she said. “Those first 27 weeks were among the hardest in my career.”
Among other initiatives in the pandemic, Diogo established the Getting Back to Business Task Force, the assembly and distribution of COVID-19 Starter Kits for businesses as they reopened, meeting regularly with the Association of Chambers.
As Diogo winds down her 17 years of service, a search committee has started the process to find a new CDCC president. The committee is comprised of select CDCC Executive Committee members and past CDCC board chairs, and will be responsible for recruiting for the position and recommending finalists to the Board of Directors.
“Judy Diogo has made it her mission to lead the CDCC as a staple of our community. Under her tenure, the CDCC has never been stronger. It has been a privilege to see her work tirelessly with dedication and passion all these years,” said Brian Stetina, the CDCC board chairman.
Diogo will continue to work as a consultant for the CDCC for a time, but she plans on finding part-time work to keep active but also keeps her schedule open for her family and other things she wants to accomplish.
“I will miss working with our staff and our members every single day. I’ve loved my work here, and it’s been a phenomenal opportunity. I’m extremely grateful for the privilege, because I’ve gotten to meet and know so many amazing people. Not everyone gets that, so I am very blessed.”