Barbara Ann Heegan started her first day Monday as Greenwood SC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
“I’m very excited to be here,” Heegan said.
Heegan said she grew up on Long Island and worked for the American Red Cross for more than 3 1/2 years following the 9/11 attacks. She worked as a family support specialist supporting more than 100 families who were affected by the 9/11.
In her office, she proudly displays an American flag that was given to her by a family member who was affected by the attack. The flag contains the names of those who perished as a result of the attack.
“I’ve had it with me, in every job, in my office hanging proudly,” Heegan said.
In 2007, Heegan became the marketing director for the Plains at Parish Homestead, an assisted living community in Oneonta. Five years later, she would become the president and CEO of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce in Oneonta.
“I was very invested in civic work in the community,” Heegan said. “I knew a lot of the key community leaders.”
In the eight years at the helm of the Chamber, she doubled membership, increasing it to 600.
“That was a lot getting out in the community, meeting people and explaining the benefits of the Chamber,” Heegan said.
She said she also introduced new programs. One of the programs included getting middle and high schools excited about entrepreneurship. Another program was a small business seminar on topics like access to capital, marketing and human resources.
“I was helping both existing businesses and new startups get introduced to key members within our membership that had the level of expertise to help their business get to the next level,” Heegan said.
She said she also worked on workforce development and hosted job fairs at high schools and colleges.
Heegan obtained a bachelor’s degree in child and family studies from the State University of New York at Oneonta and a master of business administration from the University of Phoenix.
A mother of three children, she said her daughter, Christina, is attending Siena College in New York, while her oldest son is finishing a cybersecurity certificate from the State University of New York Adirondack. Her youngest son will be attending Emerald High School.
Heegan said her partner, Bob Pondolfino Jr., is a third-generation dentist in Oneonta. He plans to move to Greenwood when he retires in about a year.
After spending more than 25 years in Oneonta, Heegan decided to make the move to Greenwood. She said Oneonta is a rural community similar to Greenwood.
“That was something that attracted me to Greenwood was that it felt similar in size and friendliness of the people,” Heegan said. “I just love how everybody wants to work together.”
Heegan’s selection was announced in December after the Chamber board unanimously voted to hire her as its CEO.
“We had a tough decision, but Barbara Ann was the ideal choice for our community,” Jeff Smith, search committee chairman, said in a press release announcing Heegan’s selection.
After former Chamber CEO Angelle LaBorde announced her resignation in April, the organization’s board began the search for a replacement for LaBorde, who left to head the Lexington, South Carolina Chamber and Visitor Center.
With the events that transpired in economic development — Greenwood County leaving the Greenwood Partnership Alliance and the organization’s subsequent dissolution — the Chamber halted its search as it began discussions to take on some economic development roles.
The Chamber eventually relaunched its search with new criteria for potential candidates. Among the added criteria, the organization wanted someone with experience in economic development.
Heegan, who attended Tuesday’s meeting of Greenwood County economic development stakeholders, said the Chamber in New York had similar tasks in economic development to the ones the Greenwood Chamber is taking on.
“I think that the Chamber is critically positioned to be the collaborator and the conveyor of bringing people together facilitating key stakeholder meetings and knowing the right people to connect,” Heegan said.
The Chamber has been known to have many programs and events in the past, Heegan said that would not be changing under tenure.
“We are going to continue with our traditional programs,” Heegan said.
Heegan even said she wants to look at adding more programs. Her first course of action, however, will be to send out a survey to the business community to see what their needs are and how the Chamber can serve them. But, she does have a few ideas for programs she would like to start.
An advocate for health and wellness, Heegan said she wants to start a program that allows for members to meet at a park, have coffee and chat about business.
She also said she has ideas about drive-thru job fairs and finding more creative ways of connecting.
“The more we can connect and help each other through this pandemic, the stronger we will be,” Heegan said.
She said she has some ideas about growing the Chamber’s membership.
“We want to invite all businesses to look at the value-added benefits that our Chamber offers,” Heegan said.
She said the Chamber can offer programs to all businesses that show how Chamber membership can help them in their business.
While COVID-19 has not made it easy for Heegan to introduce herself, she is eager to meet people but do it in a safe manner. However, she said she is ready to get to work.
“Together we can accomplish great things for the community,” Heegan said.