New Dulles Chamber CEO Discusses Vision For Area's Business Community

DULLES, VA — When the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce first announced in January that Melissa McKenna had been named the organization’s new president and chief executive officer, many people in western Fairfax County may have wondered why that name sounded so familiar.

Since moving to the area in 1983, McKenna has been an active member in the Herndon community. In addition to serving nine years as the chair of the Herndon planning commission, she was elected to the town council in 2012. She is also the current chair of the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which manages the county’s $500 million portfolio of affordable housing units.

Patch sat down with McKenna recently to talk about her vision for the chamber and discuss the prospects for Dulles and Herndon-area business community.

Interested in local real estate?Subscribe to Patch's new newsletter to be the first to know about open houses, new listings and more.

Patch: What experience and skills are you bringing to your role as chamber president?

McKenna: This job takes my diverse background and my own personal strengths and kind of has funneled them into the perfect way for me to use everything I’ve ever done or learned. I’ve worked in several industries, including housing, research and consulting, professional services and software sales, which exposed me to everything from aircraft to life science to supply chain and more. I have my civic side as well, where I chaired the planning commission in Herndon. I was an elected council member, and I’m currently the chairman of the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority. When you take all of those things and roll them into one place, being the CEO of a chamber is a good place to be with that background.

Interested in local real estate?Subscribe to Patch's new newsletter to be the first to know about open houses, new listings and more.

Was there any concern of it being a conflict of interest that you were the chamber president while still serving on the housing authority?

No, I actually vetted it with the county attorney just to make sure before I accepted it. They’re very different beasts. If anything, the director and the county attorney and I all agreed that it’s an opportunity for me to share knowledge about affordable housing with the people who need the workforce. Already, I can tell you that just what I know about affordable housing was incredibly beneficial. The Consortium of Chambers was in Richmond last week and we were talking with [Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick]. I was able to share a little bit more about housing from a very knowledgeable standpoint and why it was important in the Northern Virginia area.

Affordable housing has become a priority for Fairfax County. Do you see that happening in the other jurisdictions the chamber is working with?

Loudoun is definitely in the process of ramping up their focus on affordable housing. I’m excited to be able to serve as a resource to any of the supervisors that are in the Dulles region’s footprint, and to also work alongside the Loudoun Chamber as they are working on their advocacy efforts.

What do you see as the impact on the region of Metro’s Silver Line now being open to Dulles Airport and beyond?

I spent a decade of my life essentially working on the Herndon Station and the planning around it. All of the rezoning and everything that was hoped for when Metro opened. And then we threw the ultimate wildcard into everything with the pandemic and how it changed everything about how we work and how we live.

We are already seeing some of the changes that Metro has brought forth. Ridership definitely has room to grow, but people are using the Metro and the value of it is being recognized. I know the airport has seen some good numbers with ridership, for example. What the opportunity is now — and this is the phrase I’ve been using — ‘Turn silver to gold’ and really figure out for today and for the future what does good look like around our Metro stations? There’s going to be a shift in what people want and what we need around those stations with the different ways that people are living.

Click Here: cheap converse women low top shoes

One of the things the Dulles Chamber had been doing around Metro were Metro Mondays. Is that something that the chamber will continue to do?

We were talking about it recently. How does that event shape up and change now that Metrorail is open? It used to be very focused on when, what if, and all those things. At the chamber, we’re talking about how that really has to be focused now on being cognizant of the development plans that are going on around the stations and how they’re changing. How the chamber can support and be aware of those plans, and give feedback on them and also support businesses that will ultimately come to work in those locations. …

Metro Mondays will be continuing. We’re also going to be taking more of a focus on some of the industry specific tracks, like hospitality and all the businesses tied to government work, IT, and health and wellness, all those industries that play a huge role here. We want to double down on event series around those things. We’ve had a successful series in the past called ‘IGNITE.’ I want to see how we maybe reframe the way that we present that to really hone in on communities. So, can we make sure our programming focuses on the communities that are north of the Silver Line? Can we focus on the communities that are south of the Silver Line in a more prescriptive way?

With Herndon having its own Metro station and development going up around that, where do you see the town being at in five or 10 years? Will it be able to keep its identity?

Other places don’t have this sense of a hub, right? There’s not like this one place. But what’s unique about Herndon is it does have this gateway of the downtown, the bike trail going through it, and the public spaces are built by the town. Then there’s the way that the chamber has brought WinterMarkt and Friday Night Live! into these areas to help to keep the sense of place.

The biggest challenge that I see is that it’s going to have to figure out a balance of its heritage and the pressures that are going to be put all around it.

Whenever you look at the area south of the Toll Road, bounded by Route 28 and Centerville Road right across from the clock tower, that is a whole second town/city going in there, whenever you think about the number of people that live there now. One of the biggest challenges that Herndon faces is — think about Innovation Station, think about what I’ll just call South Herndon and Reston. How does Herndon create enough draw on a regular basis to not just be a cut through? … Already you face cut-through traffic. How do you balance traffic going through town? You want to mitigate that, right? You don’t want Elden Street to just be a parking lot of cars just trying to go through, but how do you still attract people to town with all of the new and shiny things going around it?

The chamber’s headquarters is in Herndon, but it also serves the business community around the Toll Road and out to Loudoun. A lot of big corporations and smaller businesses are headquartered there. How does the chamber keep focus on such a diverse community?

It’s really a three-pronged approach keeping that focus on commerce. One is having more clearly defined, industry-based tracks of events that are high quality to not only share relevant information with our chamber members, but to also provide an avenue to connect people in meaningful ways through those events.

The second thing would be continuing our really effective leadshare and speed networking events that really take care of a lot of our medium- and small-sized businesses. Those continue to be very well attended. … There is an increasing hunger for people to be back out face-to-face and engage in three dimensions. The chamber plays a really critical role in getting people back and connected who have been apart and by making new connections for people.

The third prong for me is advocacy and being able to take a little more active role on speaking up regarding policy and how it impacts business. As I continue to ramp up, I want to make sure that we are acting as good stewards for our members on advocating for businesses through the chamber’s voice.

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.

0 thoughts on “New Dulles Chamber CEO Discusses Vision For Area's Business Community”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *