Joan Verplanck: DSCC Second Female President and CEO
A Rosie outlook: Verplanck brings fresh ideas to Delaware.
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Verplanck soon realized the board was as “clueless” about the organization as she was. She threw her hat into the ring for the leadership position. At the interview, a female board member blurted: “Can you type?” Verplanck replied that she could, and she was hired.
It was 1977. North Kingstown was severely depressed. Rhode Island had lost the U.S. naval base in nearby Quonset Point three years earlier. The chamber had a $17,000 budget, and the main member perk was a summer picnic. Five years later, it had a $400,000 budget—“big bucks in the ’70s,” Verplanck says. It captured new business by capitalizing on the offshore oil exploration and its need for onshore support service.
In 1982 she became president of the Greater Woonsocket Chamber of Commerce, which handled economic development for the former textile town as well as towns in bordering Massachusetts. Because the chamber owned industrial parks, Verplanck learned about commercial real estate. During her tenure, the chamber attracted CVS, which still has its corporate headquarters there.
Verplanck and her husband divorced in 1983. She moved to the Morris County Chamber of Commerce in New Jersey four years later. “I went from a blue collar town with ancient infrastructure to a ‘city on a hill,’” she says. The affluent region had a healthy dose of Fortune 500 company headquarters.
Then, in 1995, Verplanck became the first female president of the Trenton-based New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. During her 16-year tenure, she doubled the staff and increased assets by $2 million. She also racked up honors.
The Star-Ledger twice named her one of the 10 most powerful women in business. New Jersey Monthly called her one of the five business power players. She was inducted as a life member of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, the chamber profession’s highest honor.
In 2009 many considered Verplanck a leading running mate for Gov. Jon Corzine, who was going up against Republican Chris Christie. Corzine chose Sen. Loretta Weinberg. That apparently didn’t matter to Christie, who won the election. “He seems like the kind of politician who never forgives and never forgets,” says Burris, who served in the Delaware House of Representatives for six years and ran for governor.
Case in point: Christie skipped the chamber’s traditional January train ride to Washington, D.C., typically a big debut for a new governor. He also appointed Debra DiLorenzo, South Jersey Chamber of Commerce president, to his transition team.
Josh Margolin, reporting for the Star-Ledger, wrote in a Jan. 24, 2010, article: “Christie wants revenge against two of Trenton’s most influential lobbying groups: the chamber and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.” He added that sources said Christie was upset that the chamber had favored Corzine’s plan to raise highway tolls to reduce state debt.