Central Delaware
Chamber of Commerce leader Diogo honored at dinner
From left, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce president Judy Diogo receives the Economic Spirit Award from Kent County Levy Court president P. Brooks Banta and Kent Economic Partnership director Jim Waddington during Thursday evening’s Kent Economic Partnership annual dinner and awards presentation at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — She’s a pint-sized spark plug and the heart of Kent County.

The Kent Economic Partnership honored Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, Thursday for her commitment to promote economic development in Kent County.

“She’s what makes this county really move,” said Brooks Banta, Kent County Levy Court president, at the partnership’s annual economic development dinner as Ms. Diogo beamed ear-to-ear.

“Look at her; she’s always smiling.”

She received the aptly titled Spirit Award to commend her work with local government officials, businesses, tourists and the average local living in Delaware’s smallest county.

Such work propelled the chamber to secure a five-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that places the CDCC in the top 1 percent of accredited chambers in the United States.

“I’m not used to being on this side of the award,” Ms. Diogo said to the crowd of local stakeholders gathered at Dover Downs. “You people are what help me be successful each day.”

The partnership also recognized anchors in the local business community, including Handy Tube, a steel manufacturing plant in Camden. The plant has reinvented itself over the years, thus taking home the Trendsetter Award.

After laying its roots in Camden in 1981, the plant grew to incorporate an expanded product line of stainless steel tubing used in the energy sector and aerospace industry.

In 2003, the plant employed 38 workers; now, Handy Tube President John Coates said they employ 165. And their staff only will grow, especially with expanded export-import partnerships from around the world from India to China.

As Handy Tube expands globally, local specialty businesses, like Harvest Ridge Winery, are attempting to bring the global community to Delaware.

Chuck Nunan, owner of Harvest Ridge Winery in Marydel, began making wine in his basement in 1995. Now he has a winery to call all his own. Since opening in 2013, grapes for chardonnay, malbec and merlot wines have been sowed locally.

“I turned 60 and finally learned what I wanted to do when I grow up,” Mr. Nunan joked after receiving the partnership’s Trailblazer Award. “I’m the guy that tastes everything.”

Owning the winery has opened many doors and forged partnerships with the tourism community in Delaware, just as the wine industry is about to explode in the Mid-Atlantic region, he said.

“Nobody thought you could grow malbec in Delaware,” Mr. Nunan said.

The partnership, as do many leaders in the community, want to see Kent County thrive. The award ceremony provided the opportunity to discuss issues affecting the community from the stalled Kent County Sports Complex to the prospective success of the air cargo ramp.

Kent County has blossomed over the years — from hosting NASCAR races to Firefly Music Festival — and is nowhere near wilting, according to Ms. Diogo.

“Folks, we are just not done yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.

Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow @DSNJen_Rini on Twitter.