When traveling to new cities to sell and promote her “Alabama Weddings” magazine, Michelle Hawkins usually made the local Chamber of Commerce her first stop.
Now she can be that “first stop” for others, as she was recently named the new executive director of the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to be that source to bring business to Vestavia Hills and promote [them]”Hawkins said.
Hawkins replaces Karen Odle, now retired, who led the organization for 20 years.
Being head of the chamber is the “perfect job” for her, she said.
“It’s the heart of the community,” Hawkins said. “I’m excited.”
Hawkins, originally from the Atlanta area, moved to Alabama in 1994 and has since owned and operated several businesses. She said working in a place like Vestavia and seeing the vision the chamber leaders have for the organization makes it a dream job.
“If I had to pick one place to go, it would be here,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said she had to work with many business owners and many different personalities over her career. She said she wanted to meet with the chamber members individually and was excited to get started.
“I have a lot of diplomacy to bring people together,” Hawkins said. “It’s never about me; it’s about them.
In 2001, Hawkins created “Alabama Weddings” magazine, which she sold in 2020. For 20 years, she worked to shine a light on weddings statewide.
“It was very successful,” Hawkins said. “I’ve worn all the hats.”
Hawkins said she sells ads, does graphic design, coordinates photoshoots and more as the magazine’s lead.
She took time off after selling the magazine to travel with her husband, Allen. The couple traveled West and spent time in their RV.
Her husband died last September of complications from COVID-19.
“It was really a shock,” Hawkins said. “He had no underlying issues.”
Allen developed the virus at the same time as Michelle. While she was recovering, he came down “really fast” after she took him to the hospital, she said.
After her death, Hawkins said she wanted to “make a difference” in the lives of others.
She also wants to make a difference in the image of Vestavia Hills and all its amenities.
“We have to show what Vestavia has to offer,” Hawkins said. “There’s something to be proud of here.”
Hawkins, who began her new role on June 13, said she not only wanted to work with chamber member businesses, but also with City Manager Jeff Downes on ways to get business done.
“I have a lot of energy,” Hawkins said. “There are a lot of members.”
As for the city’s renowned school system, Hawkins said she plans to create a junior membership for high school students that would allow them to be a part of what the chamber does. Hawkins wants to serve as a bridge between schools and chamber businesses.
Hawkins also offered to provide more networking opportunities, possibly during breakfast or after-work hours for those who can’t make lunches each month.
Hawkins has four boys and will be moving to Vestavia, she said.