By Katherine Gotthardt
Lawyer’s Weekly Magazine has named her one of its Influential Women of Virginia. Piedmont Business Journal lists her as one of “20 Women to Watch.” And now, she has stepped into the role of chair for the Prince William County Chamber of Commerce. She’s Betty Dean, businesswoman extraordinaire and community volunteer, a powerhouse who calls herself “an engaged citizen.”
But Dean is more than just “engaged,” as she humbly puts it. She is a part of the community fabric, with a long history of volunteering for organizations, such as the Greater Prince William Coalition for Human Services, Lake Ridge Rotary, Occoquan River Communities (now Occoquan River Communities Alliance), and Occoquan’s strategic planning committee. The list goes on. In her “spare time,” she graduated from the inaugural class of Leadership Prince William (LPW) and completed Lead Virginia, the statewide version of LPW.
Meanwhile, she was an active member of the Chamber, moving from member to committee member to committee leader to chair elect nominee, to chair elect, to chair. All this kept Dean active as she lived her business life, which included working thirteen years at Didlake and launching Betty Dean & Associates, a strategic planning and communications firm, in 2016.
“I’m a part of life in this community, and it’s wonderful to know someone like me, who isn’t rich or a celebrity, can be influential and involved. That’s amazing,” Dean said.
Being involved has definitely contributed to Dean’s overall success. But when it comes to her business, she attributes Betty Dean & Associates’ existence solely to the Chamber. “It’s because of the Chamber that all my business relationships have evolved,” she said.
A Chamber Chair Emerges, and So Does a Strategy
Evolution takes time, and the Chamber’s leadership track proves it. “They have a lengthy process for onboarding leadership,” Dean said of her move through the various stages of becoming chair. By the time someone reaches the point where Dean is, being named chair is “no surprise,” she said.
“The Chamber created a pipeline, so the elected chairs can learn and grow into that position. It’s helpful, and it gives you a chance to learn the level of commitment and expectations. It takes three years from becoming chair-elect nominee to become chair-elect and then chair. But it’s really a four-year commitment because then you have duties as Immediate Past Chair.”
Just as Dean has grown into the position, she has grown a strategy. Chair-elect Lyle Dukes and Dean are serving as co-chairs of the committee developing a new strategic plan for the Chamber.
“One of the things that is critical is the acknowledgement that membership organizations in general are evolving and changing, in part because of the influence of millennials, technology and how we connect to each other. It will change how our community is changing.”
Dean said the development of the Chamber’s strategic plan isn’t just business as usual. It positions the Chamber to take on future generations of leaders and meet needs of the business community in a way that works for the members.
That’s the big picture, she said. This year, they also want to continue what Jim Elliott did as past chair—increase the Chamber’s profile and visibility, while advocating and having a voice.
“We made a conscious decision to speak a little more loudly on issues that affect the business community,” Dean said. “We want to continue that effort.”
Solid Business Requires Solid Relationships
Dean and the leadership are also concerned about reemphasizing and recommitting to the concept of members doing business with members.
“At its core, that’s what a Chamber is all about: creating the conditions for building a business community with stronger relationships,” she said. “When you’re looking for a service or making a purchase, whether it’s building a building or choosing a restaurant, the first question you should ask is, ‘Are you part of the
Chamber?’ That’s how we can support our business community. That says, ‘I am a part of a larger community.’ Making these businesses part of the purchasing decision makes the business community stronger.”
Dean wants to remind members that the Chamber has a director of government affairs, an advocate in Richmond and with local government, and a resource for individual businesses. Local businesses can get help navigating regulatory minefields, she said.
“Members can call and say, ‘I’ve got this problem. What should I do?’ We have vast connections throughout the greater Prince William region,” she explained. “We have personal relationships with elected officials. Use those relationships.”
Dean believes that is what lies at the heart of the Chamber—relationships. “Chamber members help connect people within the Chamber and outside it,” she said. “You can’t put a price tag on those kinds of connections.”
According to her, investing in Chamber membership creates a unique opportunity. “When you conduct a transaction, you receive something, and you don’t add value yourself. The value you get is the value the seller adds. The Chamber allows you to create your own value by being engaged,” Dean said.
“The Chamber gets you recognized, but you can make your membership priceless. You get to use your membership and make it invaluable,” she continued. “If you want to make it the most valuable purchase your business has made this year, you can do that. But it’s part of being engaged.”
Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed.,([email protected]) is an author and poet, as well as the vice president of content marketing for Prince William Living.