‘I’m wearing several hats here’

By Mike Lewis
Stephen Christian is president of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Chambersburg Area Development Corp. He enjoys coffee on a break. “My staff makes fun of me for using up all the K-Cups.”

Stephen Christian, president of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Chambersburg Area Development Corp.

By Mike Lewis
mlewis@crossroadsbizjournal.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Stephen Christian’s fingerprints are all over a host of economic development moves throughout the Crossroads Business Journal region.

He’s worked on projects large and small in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. One of the feathers in his economic development cap is helping recruit the $500 million Procter & Gamble plant to Berkeley County, W.Va. That facility is up and running and employing hundreds from throughout the region.

For the past couple of years, Christian has been “wearing several hats,” as he puts it, as president of the Greater Chambersburg (Pa.) Chamber of Commerce and the Chambersburg Area Development Corp.

“I’m coming up on my two-year anniversary here, and it’s just been fantastic,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful community, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Chastain, 54, said he took a “nonlinear path” to economic development.

He said he received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management and another bachelor’s degree in theatre from Syracuse University. But the native of Huntington, W.Va., said his most valuable education came after college.

“I was selling food for my father’s food brokerage firm. … I did that for four or five years and really learned what it was like to communicate and do business-to-business marketing and sales,” Christian said.

The lessons came in real-life settings, he said, such as “sitting on a pallet of paper towels convincing the (grocery) owner to buy a truckload of bleach.”

“It was as good or better an education than what I had in four years at Syracuse University,” he said.

He later spent time in San Diego (“a really cool town”), working in marketing for an electronics manufacturing firm. He did a stint as manager of the West Virginia Economic Development office and then worked in economic development in Montgomery County, Md.

Among other things, he also served as a consultant for a time. In that role, he helped Washington County, Md., with some projects, such as the Tractor Supply distribution center.

Christian then spent nine years as executive director of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Development Authority.

“That was a wonderful experience — a lot of success,” he said.

That experience also brought some accolades. Among others, in 2015, he was named one of the Top Ten Most Influential Leaders in West Virginia, and in 2017 he was recognized by the National Association of Secretaries of State for Achievement in Business Development.

Christian said he has a daughter, who recently graduated as a nurse from James Madison University, and a son who is studying at Virginia Tech.

From his office in downtown Chambersburg, he sees a lot of promise for that community specifically and the Crossroads region in general. The chamber role is new and fun, he said, and the economic development corporation job “is right up my wheelhouse.” He said he works closely with a lot of other entities, including the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

“As with a lot of things, the first couple of years are a shake-down cruise. … I am anticipating the next two years are going to be very dynamic,” Christian said.

“We’ve got a lot of great projects on the burners.”

On a break, do you reach for coffee, tea, soda, water …?

I’m a coffee guy, for sure. Iced coffee in the summer. My staff makes fun of me for using up all the K-Cups. They know my name at the local Starbucks drive-through.

An average day for you includes … ?

I’m wearing several hats here. I’m chamber president, Chambersburg Area Development Corp. president, and I oversee several other community development affiliates. We have 11 staff members, and I’m not sure whether I am trying to keep track of them, or they are trying to keep track of me.

Typically I’m doing multiple meetings and conference calls every day with civil engineers, lawyers, bankers, chamber members, tenants and various local government officials. I should have a poster in my office of the guy in the circus keeping a dozen plates spinning on tall sticks.

Looking at your experience with two Interstate 81 communities — Martinsburg and Chambersburg — what similarities and differences have you experienced?

Our section of the I-81 corridor from Martinsburg through Maryland into Chambersburg has a very similar economic dynamic. You can be in all three areas within 30 minutes or less. Our workforce labor pool is universal. Folks don’t pay any attention to whether they cross a river or a border or a bridge to get to work. Living in one state or town and working in another is very common. From an economic development standpoint, Martinsburg-Berkeley County, W.Va., has more of a “Wild West” vibe. (No pun intended, really.) They have no land-use zoning laws and a somewhat unorthodox permitting process. That’s sometimes great for getting development moving, but it can result in long-term challenges for the planning and infrastructure supporting that growth, as well as odd juxtaposition of neighboring land use. Chambersburg / Franklin County has a much more methodical system for development. Sometimes it takes a little more time to navigate, but the long-term results are excellent.

Looking at the next few years, what are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the chamber and the development corporation?

Everyone agrees our biggest long-term challenge is the expansion of I-81. Hands-down that’s the No. 1 economic development issue for everyone doing business along our section of the I-81 corridor. The great news is that we are seeing a broad diversification of our industry sectors, from manufacturing, to medical services, to high tech. There’s more opportunity for our students and young professionals than ever before. That diversification has helped our chamber of commerce continue to grow and thrive.

Outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

I’m sure I’ll be able to break onto the senior PGA tour at some point. No, really … .