The Heart of the Deal
Tommy Cooper brings passion, innovation—and a touch of Sussex County flavor—to his role as chair of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.
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Wolfe, a former plant manager at Chrysler’s Newark facility, is no stranger to difficult projects and has helped Cooper, as well as the rest of the board, with this lengthy process. However, as in any organization with hundreds of members, opinions will differ, he says. To prevent disagreements from escalating into full-blown confrontations, transparency and diversity are key.
“You want a chair that has been involved and wants to help the chamber, and more importantly, businesses move forward,” he says. “You also need a range of views and if we are serious about diversity, you want a variety of voices.”
With its current chair from Sussex and Connie Bond Stuart of PNC Bank prepared to take over in 2012 as the first female chair, the chamber, which in the past has almost exclusively been chaired by New Castle County men who work in the science or financial industry, has clearly embraced change.
“The business world is a much more inclusive environment than even 10 years ago,” Stuart says. “[Becoming chair] felt like a really great opportunity to move forward. I think it’s just a reflection of the changing environment.”
Yet, as Cooper has helped the DSCC usher in change, he has been dealing with his own struggles back at Cooper Realty.
“I can tell you that for the real estate industry, this has certainly been a depression. A lot of good people have been hurt and the way the survivors are doing business today is totally different than the way things have been done in the past. It is a whole new ballgame and I think we’re all going to be stronger and smarter if we survive,” he says. “It’s very rewarding when you can help owners that are having problems caused by nothing they did so that they can go on and survive.”
Despite the grim outlook, Cooper sees better times on the horizon.
“I think Delaware is getting better every day. In Sussex, we still have a mesh of people from the entire United States coming here to retire. I have to compliment our senators and representatives on a federal level, and the Markell administration, too. They are all working well to create an atmosphere that will make Delaware a more attractive place,” he says. “I’m a staunch Republican and none of those people are, so that’s a big compliment.”