Spotlight on Creativity
March's spotlight is local entrepreneur, Charnelle Hicks, President and CEO of CHPlanning Ltd., a Philadelphia firm that specializes in land use and community and environmental planning. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, Charnelle specializes in airport planning and community impact, and past clients have included the Philadelphia International Airport, Atlantic City International Airport and Pope Air Force Base, to name a few. Her experience in community planning includes preparing comprehensive plans, zoning and subdivision regulations for urban and rural communities throughout the United States and abroad.
Charnelle holds a Bachelor of Arts from Swarthmore College and a Masters in Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and she holds a New Jersey Professional Planners License. She is also a certified instructor for the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute where she provides in-depth planning, zoning and subdivision instruction to leaders in the Commonwealth.
Center City, Philadelphia
President, CEO and Founder
Favorite Philadelphia neighborhood:
Right now I am particularly fond of the North Delaware Avenue neighborhood of Philadelphia, mainly because we are seeing a good amount of work from there. It is a growing, newly-thriving community and I think it's indicative of how Philadelphia continues to re-invent itself through its neighborhoods.
Best advice you've ever been given:
When I was beginning my business more than eight years ago, I was advised to establish as much financial credit as possible before I began. And then let it sit there. So if I needed it, I could access it to support my business when I became established and began to grow.
Your favorite thing about living in the Philadelphia Region:
There are several reasons I love living here. There are not many places one can live on a working farm, in Schwenksville, PA, and commute to and work in a vibrant city that is one of the largest in the nation. Also, of course, the diversity of the city itself and its population always invigorates me. Finally, we are situated in such a unique location. It's been said before and it's true: Philadelphia is a great city, but drive two hours, you're in New York City, three you're in Washington, DC. You can go East and you're at the Atlantic Ocean, and West you're skiing in the Poconos. It's a wonderful place to raise children. And the climate is rather moderate as well.
Your favorite "Philly moment":
Believe it or not, just driving in, in the morning, and seeing the Philadelphia skyline loom before me is a daily inspiration to me. I come in on the Expressway from Montgomery County and, jokes aside, it is thrilling to pass through the suburbs, see the ever-increasing and interesting architecture before me, the river to the left, the Museum of Art - all that we have in communities, in culture, in diversity of every kind - and realize that this quite old city is still learning new ways to thrive and make its mark in the world.
Your favorite thing about working in the Philadelphia Region:
For a business such as ours - a land-use, community and environmental planning firm - there is so much opportunity for business. Being one of the oldest cities and populated regions in the nation means there is always going to be change, and growth, and challenges. The infrastructure is old and is always in need of updating. Communities both evolve and devolve. The Philadelphia region is a Planner's dream!
Why own a business/work in Philadelphia?
While Philadelphia, of course, presents challenges to any business, it is also supportive of businesses. We like to say that we partner with our clients and there is something about the business climate of Philadelphia that fosters that. I have studied this city deeply, and there is still so much potential, so much growth, just waiting to be fostered.
What has been your greatest accomplishment with owning your own business?
For me it is extremely fulfilling to hire professionals in my area of work - planning - give them a challenging and interesting work environment and also access to great projects. I also find it very gratifying to be able to give my staff the means to provide for their families.
What are the challenges of owning a business in the Philadelphia Region?
We are a relatively small firm - 13 professionals - and must vie with large, old established firms for the same work. That can be a challenge. But we feel our people and our reputation help us to stand out.
What advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur in the Philadelphia Region?
I would advise a budding entrepreneur to save their money and make sure they have a good financial base before going into their own business. Having an idea or a dream is great; but the reality is that bills must be paid and the unexpected always occurs. You do not want to be drowning in red ink while attempting to sell and grow your business. It's very distracting!
Charnelle has been featured in the January 2008 issue of Black Enterprise Magazine as a leading entrepreneurs. CHPlanning has been recognized by the Philadelphia 100 as one of the fastest-growing privately held firms in the region. Their initiatives have enhanced communities, environments and business corridors. Recent projects include neighborhood recovery planning for New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and PennDOT's model zoning ordinance for noise.
To learn more about Charnelle and her work in the region, visit: http://www.chplanning.com