Hospitality as a second nature: Heugel uses hotel experience at Cornerstone

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — The desk in Chris Heugel’s office is much like his life.

Heugel is constantly on the go and has a hand in everything as president of the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce and a St. Joseph City Commissioner. Papers and stationery cover the desk in the Cornerstone office, with boxes filled with more paper in every corner.

It’s an organized chaos that brings Heugel here. There is never too much on his plate.

The St. Joseph resident has spent 23 years in the hotel industry and has met thousands of people in that time. Heugel says this goes hand in hand with what he does at Cornerstone.

“Looking at my job now, it’s still hospitality, just on a different scale,” he said. “Hospitality is my passion. I believe my role as president is still a hospitality-driven job. My favorite thing is helping and giving back to the community, which coincides with what I’ve done for all these years. I get to do the same thing, only I’m helping businesses rather than individuals.”

As president of the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, Heugel promotes businesses in Berrien County.

He officially started in August 2015, but took over as interim president in April. He’s served on the Chamber’s Board of Directors for about four years before being named interim president. When Heugel was asked to take over, he was the general manager of The Boulevard Inn and Bistro.

The Anderson, Ind., native first worked in Indianapolis for several years before moving to St. Joseph in 1999. He moved to Southwest Michigan to run a hotel, which was a big industry in Indianapolis. Hotels were about conventions in Indianapolis. In St. Joseph, hotels predominately serve the tourism industry.

In addition to being chamber president, Heugel is in his third term as a St. Joseph City Commissioner. Heugel said him being a part of the city commission only betters his insight with how businesses interact with their municipalities.

Each day is different, but Heugel said he tries to see as many chamber members as he can. These members make up the Twin Cities business community.

“I try to learn their concerns and their successes,” he said. “We focus on helping small businesses, while also recruiting and finding talent.”

Heugel does this through Cornerstone’s website, which lists various job postings for chamber members. This service is extended to Cornerstone’s more than 700 members, who represent 35,000 employees.

Looking ahead

Heugel did not see himself at Cornerstone when he first moved to the area.

He envisioned himself moving back to the Indianapolis area after a brief stint. However, when the opportunity to do so came last year, Heugel said he chose to stay.

“This is my home now,” he said. “There is no place I would rather live, work and play.”

With tourism seemingly growing each year, Heugel said he expects to see new businesses coming in on a consistent resolve. Heugel said his job is made easier by the area’s proximity to merging markets.

“We’ve seen our tourism just explode in the last few years,” he said. “We’re so close to Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis. We have water expressways. We have everything a company would want. It’s become easy for me to pitch.”

While he had to step down from his position with The Boulevard Inn and Bistro when he became president full time, Heugel said he’ll miss the everyday opportunity of meeting new people.

But the change was needed. When Heugel was named interim president last summer, there wasn’t much he remembers when he was essentially working three jobs.

What’s taken the longest for him to get used to is answering to Cornerstone’s Board of Trustees.

“I was always the person who could make a decision at any time (as manager of a hotel),” Heugel said. “Now I have to navigate through the board process – which certainly is not a bad thing – it’s just taken some getting used to. I have the unique perspective because I sat on the board, as well. I know what the board is looking for and it gives me a unique perspective on what they’re looking for and what they would support.”

Nearly a year into his time as president, Heugel said he sees himself at the same place several years from now.

“We have a bright future and I’ll be right here to see it,” he said. “I’ll be working in an even better business environment and hopefully at a cleaner desk.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2016)

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