April 15, 2010 at 4:52 pm EDT | by David J. Hoffman
Celebrating D.C.’s business community

‘The chamber has made giant strides forward in just these three months,’ said Mark Guenther, executive director of CAGLCC. (Photo by Joe Tresh)

About 250 entrepreneurs and activists crowded the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in D.C. last week for the celebration of the first year of the new Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the 20th anniversary of the group itself, formerly known as PEN, or Potomac Executive Network.

Even before guests sat down to dinner, the air was festive and the mood was decidedly upbeat, as attendees dressed to the nines networked, greeting old friends and making new ones.

CAGLCC executive director Mark Guenther, in his job for a little more than 100 days, after more than 19 years of the organization being volunteer-led, outlined the group’s agenda.

“The chamber has made giant strides forward in just these three months,” said Guenther, pointing to a board of directors retreat where the organization’s mission was restated and new goals defined, as well as new outreach initiatives launched to bring in corporate employees as members, and an expanded mix of events and programs including weekly peer-to-peer breakfasts, a book club meeting and, he said, “of course our 20-year-long tradition of monthly Networking Thursday events.”

“The question remains, what’s next?” and in Guenther’s words, “we have all seen how a bad economy of poorly connected management can dictate layoffs, and how business downturns can lead to store closings and lost opportunities.”

However, “united as a network and chamber, we can buffer the negatives and counteract the shortcomings of business. … Imagine a woven fabric of diverse businesses, customers, suppliers and vendors that are constantly communicating and becoming more interconnected.”

Ken White, from Signal Financial Federal Credit Union and CAGLCC’s president, reminisced that it was “a year ago tonight” that PEN changed its name, “not an easy [decision] to make as no one wanted to erase PEN’s 19-year history.” But the opportunity was simply too great and the challenge to grow so demanding, so when the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce picked PEN for its local area affiliate, the road ahead was clear and growth began in what White called “such a banner 2009.”

NGLCC co-founders Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, president and CEO respectively, saluted in the dinner program the leadership from CAGLCC and that “we need each other in the movement for LGBT equality,” noting that the two organizations will partner for the seventh annual “Out for Business Conference” to take place Nov. 18-20 at the Capital Hilton Hotel. CAGLCC chief of staff Kate Karasmeighan later told the DC Agenda that a kick-off reception to help plan the November event will take place on Wednesday, April 28 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at The District Line restaurant and bar at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave., N.W. The event is invitation only — contact Rick Fowler, NGLCC’s director of meetings and special events at rfowler@nglcc.org or call 202-234-9181. For general information, visit nglcc.org/DC2010.

The high points of the evening were the leadership awards to Cathy Renna, of Renna Communications; David von Storch, local businessman and founder of Capitol City Brewing Company, Bang Salon and Vida Fitness; web strategist Thomas Sanchez; Burgundy Crescent Volunteers president Jonathan Blumenthal; LGBT activist Bob Sumnmersgill; and Wachovia Bank.

For more information on getting involved with CAGLCC, visit CAGLCC.org.

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