BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Jackie Lehman’s resume is a little nontraditional, she admits.
Small-business co-owner, paint shop supervisor and emissions chemist are among the jobs she’s tackled.
Now, Lehman is putting that experience to work in a position that requires both analytical and people skills: Waterville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.
“She has a lot of strengths with her personality and financial background,” said Mark Harris, past president of the chamber’s board of directors and a member of the search committee.
In June, Corina Pfleghaar told the board that she planned to step down after 11 years at the helm.
“When I started, I said, ‘I’ll give it 10 years.’ I couldn’t retire during the COVID shutdowns and not much was happening, but now I’m ready to pass the baton,” said Pfleghaar, who said she’s still weighing options for her next opportunity.
Pfleghaar has done a phenomenal job of building the chamber, up from 83 members in 2010 to 251 now, Harris said.
“Jackie’s goals are to bring in new members, reach out to former members and bridge gaps. It’s a job that requires wearing a lot of hats,” agreed Jerel Fish, search committee member.
Fortunately, Lehman has a lot of experience wearing multiple hats.
While earning her bachelor’s degree in biology from The University of Toledo, she began working for General Motors in the summers and – after graduation – took a position at Toledo Jeep as a paint shop supervisor.
“I had my eye on getting to the scientific labs at the Chelsea Proving Grounds (CPG),” she said of the 4,000-acre site in Michigan where FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) tests vehicles on 96 miles of outdoor tracks, wind tunnels and emission labs. She achieved that goal; and while at CPG, she did emissions testing for fuel economy on Chrysler products as well as for firms that rented out the facility for their own tests.
“It was really super-cool,” she said of her seven-year stint.
With the recession in 2008, Lehman was among the hundreds to accept a buyout as the company tried to streamline. She used the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in public health through a consortium between Bowling Green State University and The University of Toledo. She thought it would be a good addition to her experience in chemistry, engineering and supervision.
“I never ended up using my degree,” she said of her master’s, which was focused on epidemiology. Her husband, Larry Lehman, was growing his landscaping business, and their children, Larry Jacob and Emma, were young, so she opted instead to help build Lehman’s Landscape and Snow Removal. As business manager of a growing company, she learned to appreciate what other small-business owners experience – the pains of growing but the joy of seeing the fruits of hard labor pay off.
With Larry Jacob now a sophomore at St. Francis de Sales and Emma now an eighth-grader at Lial Catholic School, Lehman decided to begin looking for a job that “checked off all the boxes” – including the ability to work toward a significant goal with a lot of people in a nice area.
Lehman was one of four finalists to be interviewed by the search committee a second time.
“She really impressed the committee. We think she’ll bring a lot of interpersonal skills and a different vision to the chamber,” Harris said. “Under Corina’s leadership, the chamber membership has grown by leaps and bounds and we’ve added new events and ideas. I think Jackie will continue that.”
In addition to growing membership, Pfleghaar planned and executed the Roche de Boeuf Festival with a team of volunteers and added new events, including a pub crawl, Boo to Do, a holiday lighting contest, a Shop Local campaign and expanding Todd Boatfield’s class reunion gathering into a large Rock the Block summer kickoff. At monthly lunch meetings, members are given an opportunity to promote themselves with a 30-second commercial.
“I enjoyed reaching out and getting new members – talking to people and hearing their stories and how we can help them,” Pfleghaar said. “The key to any chamber’s success is a strong board of directors and volunteers who serve on committees, and that’s what we have.”
Lehman said her goal is to continue the momentum through strong relationships, social media and working to give Waterville a stronger identity as a place to dig deep into history, dine, shop and do business.
“There are a lot of possibilities here,” Lehman said. “I’m not just going to find ideas from other chambers but all types of businesses and talking to friends in economic development.”
During the November 21 meeting, Harris introduced Lehman to the members and the 2022 board of directors were named. The next chamber meeting will be held on Tuesday, December 21 at 11:30 a.m. at the Waterville Event Center, 1440 Waterville Monclova Rd., Ste. B.
For more information, visit www.watervillechamber.com.