Szynal hired to lead Franklin County Chamber of Commerce

  • Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Abramson and executive director-elect Diana Szynal of Hatfield STAFF PHOTO/RICHIE DAVIS

  • Diana Szynal of Hatfield  File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2018 2:22:44 PM

With its recently hired executive director about to join the state Legislature, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce has named her successor – former legislative aide Diana Szynal of Hatfield. 

Szynal’s 16 years as district director for the late state Rep. Peter Kocot in the 1st Hampshire District – where she recently ran an unsuccessful primary race to fill the post – isn’t all that makes her familiar with the kinds of issues she’ll face in her new role succeeding Natalie Blais.

Szynal lives within walking distance of the county line in Whately, has lived in Deerfield and Conway while a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which is also where she grew up before moving to Hatfield. In addition, she worked for a while as an assistant to Greenfield lawyer Donna MacNicol, directly upstairs from the chamber office.

Most importantly, though, she says, “What I bring is my depth of knowledge about how the local economy works. I’ve always found it inspiring how those different pieces of the economy — manufacturing, agriculture, recreation, education, historical tourism — all contribute and play a role, making for a successful area.”

In Hampshire County — where she worked as a Hatfield selectmen’s clerk and later as a member of that board for two terms — Szynal said she got to work with some of the associations that overlap with this area, including the regional employment board, the community development corporations and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. She said she will be able to take those relationships, as well as her understanding of the state Legislature, as she goes to work for Franklin County.

Szynal and Blais have known and worked with each other over the years when Blais was an aide to former U.S. Rep. John Olver and U.S. Rep. James McGovern. They have begun meeting on what both say should be “a smooth transition” before Blais moves on to become the 1st Franklin District House representative in January, succeeding state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington. 

Both women say they have not yet settled on a date when Szynal will take over full time to assume the job Blais took over in late summer 2017 from longtime chamber head Ann Hamilton.

Szynal says she finds that Hatfield is more similar to southern Franklin County towns than it is to Northampton and believes it’s a hard-working area where people are down-to-earth and many of the human service agencies straddle the county line. 

“So it’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with the struggles and the great assets Franklin County has to offer,” she said. “I’m excited by what I have to learn. There are a lot of strong manufacturing jobs and a lot of creative businesses that make for a blend of different economic forces.”

Chamber Board Chairman Mark Abramson said Szynal was the unanimous choice of the screening committee that interviewed the best of the candidates who sought the job.

“We were disappointed that Natalie would be leaving,” Abramson admitted, “but we ended up with a former executive director who’s now going to be in the Legislature who has a thorough understanding of the needs and wants of the chamber representing us, and a very good quality candidate who will be taking her position, who also has a legislative background. So there’s a connectivity we’ve gained, and we have very positive feelings that we’re heading in the right direction. The whole chamber is pleased.”

Abramson said it is great to find someone who not only has the right qualifications for heading the organization but who also has a “true understanding” of what he described as a unique area that wants to retain its special character.

Abramson said Szynal will be able to apply that background as she builds on the new direction Blais began to forge for the chamber as it works to complement existing and new business associations around the county to help the region flourish.

Blais said she, too, was helped by having a background in government affairs and experience translating constituent service work to serving the needs of chamber members, and she expects that Szynal’s familiarity with state programs and funding possibilities – along with her contacts – will help in the chamber position.

“This is about being responsive and identifying opportunities to support and strengthen our community,” she said.


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