Lancaster Chamber hires first female president, CEO 

Heather Valudes. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Lancaster Chamber Vice President Heather Valudes will succeed Thomas Baldrige, the chamber’s president of more than 22 years, when he retires next month. 

The Lancaster Chamber Board of Directors announced on Wednesday that Valudes has been named the chamber’s next president and CEO. 

Valudes joined the chamber in 2011 as its advocacy director with a focus on government affairs and community impact. Prior to joining the chamber, she was the government affairs coordinator at the building industry association. 

The appointment follows a four-month nationwide search conducted by Waverly Partners, the chamber wrote in a release. The chamber also created an eight-person search committee to aid with the effort, which included Michelle Rondinelli, the chamber’s past chair and president of Kitchen Kettle Foods and J. Seroky, president of High Concrete and the chamber’s current chair. 

“The search committee, with the help of Waverly Partners, was extremely diligent over these past few months in the search for the new CEO of the Chamber,” said Rondinelli. “We are thrilled to have Heather as the selected candidate for this position. With her deep knowledge of chamber operations, her passion for pro-business advocacy and community impact and a clear vision for the future, Heather will be a true asset to the chamber as the organization moves forward.” 

Valudes graduated from West Chester University in 2007 with a degree in political science and holds a Master’s in public administration from West Chester University. She was also named one of the Central Penn Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 in 2019. 

“I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to lead the Lancaster Chamber,” said Valudes. “For 150 years, we have been supporting business and recognizing their role in cultivating a thriving community – and I am excited to honor that legacy as we look to the future. With the support of our members, our dedicated and thoughtful board and staff team, and collaborative community partners, the Lancaster Chamber will continue to be a convener, a champion for business, and an organization addressing the challenges and opportunities in our community.” 

Baldrige announced he would retire from the role in October. He said that Valudes deserves the role and that in her past ten years she has been exceptional. 

“…I am confident the best is yet to come as she transitions to leading the organization,” he said. “Heather’s appointment to this position, is made even more meaningful, when one recognizes that this is the first women president in our c150-year history. Her energy, strategic mindset and respect for Lancaster County business makes her the perfect choice to lead our vision of making Lancaster County a thriving community for all.” 

The announcement comes just a day after the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry announced its new president and CEO, Luke Bernstein, to succeed Gene Barr at the end of June. 


Takeaways from Lancaster’s State of the County 

StateoftheCounty_Photo- Vanessa Philbert, Ray D’Agostino, Sarah Lesser, Christine Sable, Tom Blefko, Matt Brennan and Scott Fiore respond to questions during The Lancaster Chamber’s State of the County event on March 24th. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Workforce issues and the region’s tight real estate market led the conversation at The Lancaster Chamber’s annual State of the County event on Thursday. 

Area businesses leaders filled Lancaster’s Fulton Theater to hear the latest in staffing, finance, real estate and diversity, equity and inclusion from area experts. Thursday marked the event’s return to the Fulton after the pandemic forced it online for 2021. 

Chamber President and CEO, Tom Baldrige, welcomed the event’s attendees and announced the chamber’s new three-year strategic plan.  

Baldrige is set to retire from his role in July. The strategic plan will act as guidance for his successor, who will be hired to follow through with the strategy. 

The plan includes five strategic priorities including: public policy, workforce, business solutions, diversity, equity and inclusion and chamber excellence.  

Workforce has been the number one issue for the chamber’s membership, said Baldrige, who added that the chamber is currently putting together a study on the county’s workforce system and working with colleges and hosting mentorship programs to tackle the problem. 

Scott Fiore, president of TriStarr Staffing in Lancaster and one of seven guest speakers at the event, told employers to meet potential hires where they are and realize that for many smaller employers, it’s going to take effort to compete with larger companies utilizing AI to find staff. 

“You need to think about jobs ads as ads. You don’t want to think in the days of screening people out through your job ad. You want to bring in as many people as possible,” said Fiore, adding that employers need to challenge how they think about hiring. “If your job ad says you need five years of experience, challenge that.” 

Fiore asked the audience how they could offer more flexibility to employees. 

“Remote work is here to stay. If someone worked well during COVID. Why would you make them come back?” he asked. “Can you have someone work an hour or two in the morning and then come into the office for a little while? The more flexibility you have the better.” 

Business strategies will need to evolve to keep up with changing audiences, said Sarah Lesser, market president at Truist. 

Lesser said that the banking company employs three tactics to address its key stakeholders. For customers that means pursuing more opportunities to work with women and BIPOC owned businesses, working to increase capital to those communities. 

On the staffing end, Lesser said that Truist is looking to increase diversity within its hiring pool through mentorship and sponsorship.  

Across stakeholders, the company is looking at how it can address funding differently and is tracking and measuring how it can address racial inequities, said Lesser. 

Real Estate 

There continues to be a lack of rental and housing stock in the residential real estate market, but there are also a number of misconceptions when it comes to housing in Lancaster County, said Tom Blefko, director of operations at Berkshire Hathaway. 

“More and more people say that real estate prices have skyrocketed to the point that Lancaster County is no longer a bargain. In 2021 we were at a 1.8% rate of inventory,” he said.  

Blefko noted that the median sold price for residential housing in the county is $265,000—35% less than the country’s median sold price at $408,100. 

Stock is also low in the county in the commercial real estate space, said Christine Sable, owner and broker of record at Sable Commercial Realty. 

Sable said there is very high demand, extremely low inventory, prices have gone up and vacancy rates are low. 

“In terms of the impact on commercial buyers and tenants, you will see increases in lease rates and less negotiable terms,” she said. “There is less inventory and much more pressure.” 

As of this week, there were two industrial properties available for sale and 21 available for lease. There were seven office buildings for sale and 71 office spaces for lease. 

“There is very little new product in the pipeline,” she said. “It is tough for businesses to expand right now and it’s discouraging new businesses from coming to the area.” 

Lancaster  Chamber President and CEO Tom Baldrige to retire next year 

Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber. PHOTO PROVIDED

Lancaster Chamber President and CEO Tom Baldrige announced that he will retire from his role next year.

Baldrige joined the chamber as CEO in 2000, leading it to win two Chamber of the Year awards from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives in 2003 and 2013.

He was also a key leader in the creation of the Recovery Lancaster relief program in collaboration with the Economic Department of Lancaster County and the County of Lancaster. The program dispersed $49 million in funds to businesses across the county and provided $6 million in PPE.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my service to the Chamber as I have been overwhelmingly fortunate to have worked with outstanding staff members, amazing Board members, phenomenal volunteers and the best damned business community in the United States,” said Baldrige. “It has truly been my pleasure to serve and I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for your ongoing support.”

The chamber has organized a search committee and will be holding a nationwide search for its next leader. Co-chairing the committee are Michelle Rondinelli, president of Kitchen Kettle, Inc. and 2020 Lancaster Chamber Board Chair, and J Seroky, president of High Concrete and upcoming 2022 Lancaster Chamber Board Chair.

Waverly Partners, a national executive search firm, will assist the committee with the search process. The search is expected to launch in November with Baldrige leaving his position next June.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tom over the last ten years and there is no doubt we have big shoes to fill,” said Rondinelli. “He’s made a tremendous impact in this community during his tenure and will continue to do so over the next nine months. While we don’t have an easy task ahead of us, I’m confident the search committee is up for the challenge. We look forward to working with Waverly Partners to help guide us through this process.”