Banquet honors outgoing Chamber president

Staff Writer

by michelle t. bernard
o-n-e reporter
Conover resident, Danny Hearn, who has been the president and CEO of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce for 12 years, will be retiring later this month, leaving after 43 years of chamber of commerce experience.
At his retirement celebration held on Monday, Hearn received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award which is among the most prestigious awards presented by the Governor of North Carolina. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state.
Also at his retirement ceremony, a plaque was presented to Hearn which will be mounted on the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce Building which will now become known as the “G. Daniel Hearn Building.”
“I am ending my career where I started right out of college,” said Hearn. “I moved four times and ended up right back here.”
Hearn started working with what was then called the Hickory Chamber of Commerce right after he graduated from what was then known as Lenoir-Rhyne College.
During his senior year at Lenoir-Rhyne, Hearn served as an intern at the chamber. This internship opened up a part-time research assistant position which then led to a full-time managerial position at the chamber when Hearn was just 21 years old.

Hearn said that his fellow fraternity brothers were trying to decide how to interview and what to be when they grew up and here he was handed a letter before he even graduated offering him a job when he finished.

In 1978, Hearn began working as president of the Statesville Chamber of Commerce where he met Conover City Manager Donald Duncan who was then city manager of Troutman.

“He was always very innovative trying to represent business and industry but also trying to keep government and business working together,” said Duncan. “We always joke or tease him – not in a bad way but in a way because we care for him so much. It’s fun to watch his reactions – he’s the guy everybody has to pull the jokes on because he takes it so well and that’s a good character trait.

“He’s always had a strong sense for business. He’s also always been focused on growing small businesses and for a small town – that is our bread and butter. He worked at making them stronger so they can hire more people which helps the economy.”

When Hearn’s father, his “hero,” was diagnosed with colon cancer. Hearn stayed at the Statesville Chamber of Commerce for 26 years – much longer than he intended to but he wanted to be close to his father.

In 2004, when the then executive of the Catawba Chamber of Commerce left, a search firm began looking for a replacement. They brought in three candidates, according to Hearn but the search committee didn’t like any of them.

Charles Snipes, who started the Bank of Granite, called the president of the North Carolina Citizens for for Business and Industry to ask who they could get and Hearn was recommended.

Sometimes what you need is right in your backyard.

“To make a long story short, I moved right next door,” Hearn said. “I’ve been here 12 years.”

Over the years, Hearn said that we all are experiencing the largest demographic shift of human capital.

“As a result the millennial are half of the workforce in the majority population,” he said. “We’ve never had that before and adding that to America’s aging workforce crisis – we need these young people in jobs more than ever.”

Under Hearn’s leadership, a workforce and training magazine, “Made – the Heart of the Hickory Metro Economy is in our Hands,” was published in 2015 in an effort to refocus career interest in manufacturing throughout Catawba county.

Hearn is leaving on a big note, in 2015 the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce was named the National Chamber of the Year by the Association of Commerce Executives. In 2014, the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce was named Chamber of the Year by the Carolina Chamber Executives Association.

Hearn hasn’t decided what he’s going to do when he is officially retired except play more golf but he already misses the job.

“Everything that I’m doing now is my last – my last executive committee meeting, my last board meeting but I’ve got another life that’s outside these boundaries,” Hearn said. “What I’ve been able to do and what’s come back to me and who I’ve got to touch – I’ve been so blessed.”

Long-time friend of Hearn, Anissa Starnes, spoke of a quote that Hearn frequently used while teaching classes at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management, “As society grows great when leaders plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Maybe now in his retirement, Hearn will be able to sit in the shade of the one of the trees he helped plant.