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A Q&A Session New Chamber President/CEO, Susan Davenport

A Q&A Session New Chamber President/CEO, Susan Davenport

Susan M. Davenport officially transitioned into the role of President/CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 18. A seasoned executive and economic developer, Davenport has more than 15 years of experience recruiting companies in industries such as IT/Software, Biotechnology and others, to regions rich in the resources they need to thrive. Since joining As the Gainesville Area Chamber as its Vice President of Economic Development in 2013, Davenport has been instrumental attracting nearly 750 jobs and more than $400 million in capital investment to the region. As President/CEO, Davenport oversees the Chamber staff of 13 and serves as an officer on the organization’s Board of Directors. See her recent Gainesville Sun profile here (

What strengths do you believe you bring to serving Chamber members?

To begin with, I have 15 years of Chamber experience in an organization and region with similar attributes, assets and goals. I think having come to this region aware of the stellar assets and potential it holds, but with seasoned experience and fresh outside perspective gives me a unique vantage point from which to view what is possible for this region. And that future is mind-blowing. But in addition to the regional assets we all enjoy, Chamber members have the added benefit of a 5-Star Chamber, recognized among the top one percent of Chambers in the country behind them. Chamber membership gives these businesses constant opportunities to connect to education, potential customers and garner greater exposure in the community.

I also have a passion for business, technology and being in the company of intelligent people. Greater Gainesville is full of smart businesses & people, many of whom are represented on our Board and the Council for Economic Outreach. These members, and the Chamber’s strong staff team, keep me focused on continuous improvement. I feel like my career and life experiences have prepared me to lead this organization and its efforts to transform this region.

How important are members to the Chamber?

Our members are the Chamber’s reason for existence, but I think the better question is how important Chamber members are to the community. And the answer to that question is, in sheer numbers alone, Chamber members are critical to Greater Gainesville’s economy and quality of life. Our 1,400 members employ more than 70,000 people. That number represents households and their shelter, food, clothing, recreation and all of the other economic activity they generate going about their daily lives. Our members are the lifeblood of our local economy. Also, much of the unique brand of charm you can only find in Gainesville is an amalgamation of the attributes and personalities of our local businesses.

How does the Chamber help the average member?

About ninety percent of Chamber members are small businesses, so a lot of what we offer aims to help them in their day-to-day endeavors through events designed to keep them connected with potential customers and each other. We also offer education opportunities, like our Business Matters Workshop series, specifically designed to strengthen small businesses. Strategically speaking, the work we do for our members is evident in our mission: through leadership and collaboration, the Chamber facilitates economic prosperity, business growth and community progress. We undertake many efforts in the areas of public policy, talent and education, and economic development to make it easier for our members to do business in Greater Gainesville, and reduce their cost of doing business and increase the quality of life for their families.

What does the Chamber’s vision mean for members?

To illustrate the Chamber’s vision of Greater Gainesville as the global hub of talent, innovation and opportunity, allow me to explain the more immediate impacts we expect from the five-year Transforming Greater Gainesville Economic Development strategy we are executing to achieve it. By 2020, we aim to see created in Greater Gainesville 3,500 new jobs, $218 million in new primary salaries, $250 million in new capital investment, and up to $1 billion in regional investment. So, for Chamber members, the vision really means more and greater opportunities. As our members work each day to increase their own market share, the Chamber is leading the effort to grow the market available to them.

What single issue or development do you think has the greatest potential impact on that vision one way or another?

Everything matters, and while I don’t believe there are any unimportant issues the Chamber is working, I am going to answer this question from an economic development perspective. So I would say that our capacity to attract new opportunities will be the greatest indicator of our potential to become a global hub of talent, innovation and opportunity. Again, it’s growing the overall market that will increase market-share opportunities for members. In order to attract the kinds of game-changing deals we need to dramatically grow the market and opportunity for Greater Gainesville companies and citizens, we have to be a more competitive location for business attraction, expansion and retention.

How should members engage to support economic growth?

The next year will be punctuated with multiple key decision points that have the potential to move our vision forward or hold it back. Envision Alachua is a great example – this region is losing opportunities now because other areas are more organized, connected and can better demonstrate business friendliness. And there’s really no reason not to support it – if passed, it will grow jobs and opportunity while permanently conserving most of Plum Creek’s land. We need Chamber members to be ready to rally around those key decision points that will increase Greater Gainesville’s capacity for new opportunities.

I believe our members realize that we can accomplish far more collectively as a Chamber, than any of us could individually. We will call on them for support at key decision points over the next year and beyond, and we hope they will see the value in coming together to raise a unified voice in support of the actions that will improve the potential for greater prosperity for their businesses and families.

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