By Bradley Osburn
Staci-Ann Bertrand, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s new director of industry development for the Council for Economic Outreach, is a familiar smiling face to anyone who has made an effort to grow their business through the chamber in the last couple of years. Since early 2012, Bertrand has been helping guide the city’s many startups and small businesses, and helping to organize and put on workshops and roundtables. Now she’ll be using that experience to help forge stronger partnerships with regional and state resources to build on Gainesville’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and keep industry here, instead of watching it grow and leave.
The wife and mother of three is currently enrolled in the Corporate MBA program at Florida International University while remaining active in organizations like Celebration of Biotechnology Planning Committee, BioFlorida Leadership Team, Florida Chamber International Business Council and United Way Young Leader’s Society.
Bertrand was previously the chamber business opportunities manager, heading up its Entrepreneur Resource Center in assisting new and existing businesses take advantage of resources offered by the chamber and the community. In that position she performed one-on-one business consultations with pre-startups and established entrepreneurs, and built relationships with entrepreneurial resources including business incubators.
“The focus of the chamber is to make Gainesville a hub for talent, innovation and opportunity.” she said, and she will help accomplish that mission by trying to head off issues for key industries in the community with her relationships and experience in order to grow the economy and bring well-paying jobs to the area.
Every company is different, she said, with different bottlenecks and obstacles. “The community might not be meeting those needs, or the city or county might not be meeting those needs, but if we don’t reach out we’ll never know. Gainesville has a diverse set of resources that we provide to satisfy those needs.”
Bertrand cited a new pilot program the chamber has undertaken in partnership with the Advanced Manufacturing Association of North Central Florida (AMANCF) as a program she’ll work with. The program is studying the top 25 manufacturing companies in the region in order to identify what they need to grow.
“Manufacturing, we hope, is coming back to the U.S.,” she said, “and we’d like to help them expand business any way we can. There are 200 manufacturers in Alachua County, with 4,000 employees, and we’d like to see that employee count double. And the great thing about manufacturing jobs is that they range from GED to Ph.D. positions.”
Helping to provide opportunities for people from all backgrounds is what she’s all about, she said, and she developed that mindset during her years teaching in Alachua County.
“I loved being a teacher because I was able to play an integral role in the kids’ lives and inspire them to grow intellectually,” she said. “That was micro; just playing a small role in their growth. But knowing that you played a small part was a wonderful feeling.”
After a stint at Santa Fe as the Family Literacy Director, she and her husband opened their own tutoring program, The Florida Smart Kids Learning Institute, where they were able to teach 700 children over five years. That was macro, she said, but it just fueled the fire to help make more opportunity and break the cycles of poverty and unemployment. Economic development is an area that Bertrand said she feels she can really make a difference.
“Gainesville is a great place, but there are also many areas that need improvement and assistance,” she said. “The Chamber is about helping to grow business and providing a wide variety of jobs for people to enjoy a high quality of life and raise their families, and if I’m able to do that, then I feel like I’m helping Gainesville reach and eventually push the limits of its potential.”