Personality: Charlene J. Whitfield
Spotlight on Greater Richmond Partnership board chair
12/7/2023, 6 p.m.
In 2017 Charlene Whitfield became part of a group that brings business to the Richmond area in an effort to ensure economic opportunity for workers.
Ms. Whitfield, who then was employed at Dominion Energy, was selected to represent the company at the Greater Richmond Partnership, which provides resources for new businesses in the region, creates quality jobs and increases the tax base for community services.
While Ms. Whitfield recently retired from Dominion Energy, she became chair of GRP’s board of directors last July.
Her one-year term is centered on a major goal: Promoting the region “as an outstanding community not only for new businesses but also for those companies interested in expanding current business opportunities.”
Her decades of experience with Dominion, one of the nation’s major electricity and natural gas suppliers, make her a valued voice in a group that includes business owners and political leaders.
Ms. Whitfield joined Dominion Energy in 1982 and served in various roles, including electric distribution operations and customer service. She retired as a senior vice president for the company. Before her retirement, she had serviced approximately 2.7 million customer energy solutions in Virginia and North Carolina.
Outside of her professional career, Ms. Whitfield also worked with multiple community groups, including the board of trustees for the Children’s Museum of Richmond and as an executive sponsor at Virginia Union University, her alma mater.
Ms. Whitfield has helped educate others in her field throughout her work. From creating an electric distribution design leadership program at Dominion to her work with the development/mentoring program EmpowHer and her own informal mentorships, she has helped train and prepare others for their own career growth.
At a time of great change for labor and business across the country, Ms. Whitfield sees the Greater Richmond area as a welcoming, growing place for business. She believes that the area’s “strategic mid-Atlantic location, pro-business climate,” along with its educated, diverse and growing workforce signal myriad opportunities. That diversity in potential employees, the business opportunities it brings and the need to ensure equity is something Ms. Whitfield says are positively impacted in part by the contributions of Richmond area businesses.
“As racial equity in the region improves further, so will business opportunities as companies now seek diverse and racially equitable communities in which to locate,” Ms. Whitfield says.
With her history in local business and her current role with GRP, Ms. Whitfield is more than likely to be a critical part of how work, business and the economy in the Richmond region changes and grows for years to come.
Meet a leading voice in bringing new work to the Richmond area and this week’s Personality, Charlene J. Whitfield:
Volunteer position: Chair, Greater Richmond Partnership Board of Directors.
Occupation: Retired senior vice president at Dominion Energy.
Place of birth: Southampton County, Va.
Where I live now: Moseley.
Education: Bachelor’s in accounting, Virginia Union University.
Family: Husband, Greg E. Sye; five children, Amanda, Gregory, Leah, Alayna, and Adam; four grandchildren with two more due in 2024.
Greater Richmond Partnership is: The lead regional economic development organization for the city of Richmond and counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico.
When, why and who founded: In 1978, the city of Richmond and counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico came together to form the Metropolitan Economic Development Council (MEDC), where new-to-market companies could turn for economic data and analysis, workforce information, land and building availability as well as for tours and regional introductions. MEDC was rebranded as the Greater Richmond Partnership in 1994 when the localities joined together with regional business leaders.
Mission: To aggressively generate economic opportunities that create quality jobs for residents in the region and increase the tax base for needed community services.
Greater Richmond Partnership serves: The city of Richmond and counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico.
Greater Richmond Partnership is funded: By our four partner localities as well as investor organizations.
What we actually do in a nutshell: We recruit companies to Greater Richmond that create jobs for residents.
No. 1 goal or project as board chair: Continue to promote the Greater Richmond region as an outstanding community not only for new businesses but also for those companies interested in expanding current business opportunities.
Strategy for achieving goals: The Greater Richmond Partnership has several strategies for achieving goals. One strategy includes hosting site location consultants, who work on almost half of all economic development projects, in Greater Richmond to show them first-hand the regional business advantages, introduce them to local leaders, and share data that demonstrates the wealth of talent and opportunity in the region.
No. 1 challenge: Reaching corporate executives and site location consultants to inform them of Greater Richmond’s business advantages.
How we roll out the red carpet in Richmond for new businesses: When a business assisted by GRP locates or expands in Greater Richmond, we work to connect them with others in the region that can help them find success. When a new business is ready to announce their Greater Richmond location, we work with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership as well as the locality to share their announcement on our website and social media.
Racial equity and business opportunities in Richmond: Are both increasing thanks to support from major employers like Dominion Energy, Altria and others across the region.
As racial equity in the region improves further, so will business opportunities as companies now seek diverse and racially equitable communities in which to locate.
Ways to become involved: Visit grpva.com/invest to learn about involvement with the Greater Richmond Partnership
How I start the day: Eat, pray, love seems clichéd, but that sums up most of my days.
I pray, have a meal, and now that I have retired, attempt to do those things that are meaningful to me.
The three words that best describe me: Loyal, respectful, committed.
If I had 10 extra minutes in the day: I would read more.
My dream dinner party guest would be: Michelle Obama who single-handedly won over a large portion of a nation of people, both men and women, who had lost hope.
Best late-night snack: Ice cream
The music I listen to most is: Old school R&B.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I dabble in re-designing floor plans for better efficiency.
A quote that inspires me: I often say during rough times that “this too shall pass.” I’m not sure who said it first, but it always works to help me manage difficult situations. As I watch what is happening in our county and around the world, a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonates with me: “The SILENCE of the good people is more DANGEROUS than the BRUTALITY of the bad people."
At the top of my “to-do” list: Clean out my closet.
The best thing my parents ever taught me: In order to be great, you must first be grateful.
The person who influenced me the most: My ninth-grade math teacher who once told me that life is hard; everything in life is earned; no one is going to give you anything.
Book that influenced me the most: “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World” by Admiral William H. McRaven.
This book defined principles that I have believed in most of my life. From the time I was able to do so, I cannot leave my house until I make my bed. It makes me feel better about the day ahead. Admiral McRaven encouraged graduates to make sure they complete at least one task each day and that can be something as simple as making your bed.
What I’m reading now: “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. There are many lessons in this book, particularly for women in non-traditional STEM careers.
One important lesson is that when one door closes, figure out how to open another one without compromising your values or giving up on your dreams.
Next goal: There are many things I would like to do next – culinary school, volunteering, consulting, particularly for young women trying to balance a family and a career, traveling, spending time with family and friends.