DOVER — At a time when Kent County has been steadily gaining ground with landing large manufacturing companies, there will be a new chief advocate for small businesses in the new year.
[caption id="attachment_217809" align="alignright" width="235"] Dina Carol Vendetti | PHOTO COURTESY OF CDCC[/caption]
Dina Vendetti will lead the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce as its next president, effective Jan. 3. Judy Diogo, the longtime president, will work part-time to assist with the transition. Diogo officially retires on Dec. 31, but she has a contract signed to consult for at least six months.“I want to be a strong advocate, a cheerleader for the central Delaware community. It’s a place I’ve grown to love since I moved here 21 years ago, and I want to show that love by speaking up for the community,” Vendetti told the Delaware Business Times. “It’s an absolute honor to be chosen to lead the CDCC in the next chapter.”Vendetti, a Baltimore native, had a winding path to becoming one of the chief marketers and lobbyists for Dover and central Delaware’s small businesses. For years, she worked in the Lutheran School System and in 2000, she was asked to start up and lead a new school in Dover. Vendetti joined the CDCC three years later.“I believe, and still believe, how important connection is in a community. Back then, I was the principal and I wanted to connect with our parents on a deeper level,” she said. “Dover and the surrounding area wasn’t as developed as it is today. And from an outside point of view, the chamber was not as involved in the community as it is today.”But that would soon change, as Diogo was brought on as president in 2005 and worked over the course of the next 17 years to raise the prestige of the organization. The CDCC achieved three-star accreditation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and in 2013 and 2018, it reached five stars, the highest designation offered, making the CDCC among the top 4% of all chambers in the nation.Today, membership of the CDCC hovers around 800 small businesses, as far north as Cheswold and as far south as Frederica.‘I am thrilled that Dina is the person who will be leading the CDCC,” Diogo told DBT. “Dina loves the CDCC and she loves central Delaware. It’s just so obvious with everything that she says and does. Our members and the CDCC team are going to be in excellent hands.”For Vendetti, a turning point came when she signed up for Leadership Central Delaware in 2004. LCD is a 10-month program that gives select participants a crash course in Kent County’s businesses. That experience not only gave her a strong network, but also a deeper understanding of her new hometown.“It’s just incredible to learn about what’s going on in Kent County and what’s the story behind some of these businesses. You’d be surprised at how many people have told me they’ve lived here all their lives, and they weren’t aware of all these amenities and businesses we have,” Vendetti said.The LCD experience inspired Vendetti to volunteer with the CDCC over the years, including serving on the Excellence in Business Committee, the CDCC Board of Directors, and the chamber’s Executive Committee. She also served on the LCD steering committee since 2004.Vendetti was also named CDCC’s Small Business Person of the Year in 2011 and honorary mayor in 2017. For her mayoral campaign, her slogan was, “love my hometown.”“And it’s true,” Vendetti said. “I’ve fallen in love with this great community.”When St John's Lutheran School closed for good in 2019, Diogo approached Vendetti with the opportunity to become the chamber’s director of marketing and communications. Among her many duties, Vendetti was tasked with telling the stories of businesses to the local press as well as crafting the monthly chamber publication that provided an in-depth look at several chamber events and chamber members.“This has become my hometown, and there’s a real sense of community here,” Vendetti said. “It’s the best community and it’s a cozy place. There’s so much here and it’s not even well-known, but that’s all the more motivation to work even harder.”Looking to the immediate future, Diogo will train Vendetti in the first weeks of her new tenure, and Vendetti expects to start learning the ins and outs of running the chamber.“I don’t think it’s wise to go in with lots of ideas on how to change things right off the bat, so I plan on watching and listening at first,” she said.But after she settles into a routine, Vendetti does plan on exploring some ideas, like how to best support the growing e-commerce sector in Kent County.“We have a lot of small businesses in central Delaware that work with e-commerce, I think we really need to learn more about it and how to best support our retailers that are working with it,” she said.Vendetti also hopes to realize a long-discussed dream of the CDCC to expand LCD to high school and college-age kids. LCD has recently signed a partnership with Leadership Delaware Institute as a way to boost its visibility and expand networking possibilities. But Vendetti sees the LCD as a possible way to continue to develop a young workforce in Kent County.“All the research shows that children start getting an idea of what career path they want to have earlier on, so the younger we engage people, the better,” she said. “And if we can capture those young minds and show them they don’t have to leave home to have a fulfilling life and find fun things to do, it may just lower the chance of these bright minds leaving the state.”
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