A Home Game
By Mark Morris
While the specific job responsibilities are new, most everything else about Jessye Deane’s new assignment, as executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, isn’t.
Starting with the region this agency represents.
Indeed, Deane is a native of Bernardston and a lifelong resident of the county. So she is quite familiar with the region’s many assets — as well as the considerable challenges it faces, and has faced for decades now.
“When I’m out grabbing a coffee or dropping my kids off for softball, I hear all about the challenges businesses are facing,” Deane told BusinessWest. “Because I live here and run a business here, I feel intertwined with the local economy.”
Those sentiments help explain that, while Deane is no stranger to she is also no stranger to the ins and outs, ups and downs, of running a business or nonprofit. In fact, she’s had experience with both.
In her current position, Deane is the director of Communications and Development for Community Action Pioneer Valley. In her 12 years with the anti-poverty agency, the $36 million non-profit has seen an increase in private funding of more than 1,600%. Deane said her experience with Community Action has given her an education on the various strengths and challenges in each community in the county.
“I plan to get out to meet with businesses and start work on a community needs assessment. An important part of this role is to always ask our stakeholders if we are doing a good job; are we supporting them and are we being effective?”
“Community Action primarily serves Franklin County as well as offering services in other parts of Western Mass,” Deane said. “In my time there, I have become familiar with the differences in each community and the unique economic landscape in Franklin County. So, I come into my new role with that background.”
And with her husband Danny, Deane owns two F45 Training fitness studios, located in Hadley and West Springfield.
“When I hear about the challenges local businesses are facing it’s not some abstract concept,” Deane said. “As a business owner I’m facing those same challenges.”
What’s more, she is certainly no stranger to this chamber, and chambers in general. She’s served on the Franklin County chamber’s board since 2019, and before that, she as an Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce ambassador.
It is this considerable wealth of experience — with the region and the fundamentals of business, and the chamber — that Deane will bring to her position; she will begin in July, when current executive director Diana Szynal takes on a similar challenge — as president of the Springfield Regional Chamber.
It is her intention to hit the ground running, and she already has what might be considered a solid head start.
When interviewing for the position at the chamber, Deane wanted to accurately convey her vision for the agency’s role in Franklin County as it relates to both tourism and as a business collective. So she presented a 14-page proposal.
“The best way for me to operate was to put it all on paper and say this is where I think we can go,” said Deane. “I also wanted to make sure that the vision I had in mind was supported by the board.”
While this vision provides a blueprint of sorts moving forward, Deane acknowledged that there is much that she has to learn — about chamber members and their current and anticipated needs, and about the chamber its role as well.
“With my transition into the role and this new business landscape in front of us, it’s a great time to take inventory of what’s working for the chamber and where we should add additional value,” Deane said, adding that, as someone who values numbers and metrics, she plans to gather qualitative and quantitative data to deliver on the objectives she has set for the chamber.
“I plan to get out to meet with businesses and start work on a community needs assessment,” she went on. “An important part of this role is to always ask our stakeholders if we are doing a good job; are we supporting them and are we being effective?”
Overall, this is an intriguing time for the chamber, which moved from Greenfield (and an office now occupied by Community Action Pioneer Valley) to Deerfield at the start of this year. The was made primarily for the chamber to locate its visitor center to a place where more people could access it. Prior to COVID, Historic Deerfield drew nearly 20,000 visitors every year.
Meanwhile, the chamber is building on experiences — and some confidence — gained during the pandemic, when it became, out of necessity, a greater resource to members and the business community in general, and also when it learned new and often better ways to do things.
Indeed, much of Szynal’s tenure at the chamber was spent helping businesses get through an unprecedented public health crisis, something Deane acknowledged and appreciated.
“Diana did an incredible job, and was able to provide growth and stability for our members during that time,” Deane said. “As a business owner I learned quickly that there is no playbook for doing business during a pandemic, which makes Diana’s accomplishments even more amazing.”
As for her own tenure, Deane said she is looking forward to putting all those many forms to experience to work — for the chamber and the county.
“I’m so honored to serve in this role because after growing up and now raising my family in Franklin County, I’m committed to the people here,” Deane said. “These folks are my neighbors and I’m going to do everything in my power to do right by them.”