Sunderland woman new Chamber of Commerce leader

For the Gazette
Published: 6/9/2017 10:54:16 PM

GREENFIELD — After more than five months without a director, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce will soon be under new leadership.

Natalie Blais of Sunderland has been named the next executive director of the Chamber of Commerce by the organization’s Board of Directors. She emerged as the top candidate for the position after being interviewed by a seven-person hiring committee, which believes she’ll bring strong leadership, energy and a good perspective on economic development to the area.

Blais is currently the chief of staff for the chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, and was formerly the economic development specialist and communications director for both congressmen John Olver and James McGovern.

“She lives in Franklin County and when she worked for both congressmen, she worked with a bunch of people in the region — businesses, farmers, organizations like mine, Greenfield Community College, the hospital, etc. to advance issues important to Franklin County, so she’s really familiar with Franklin County and well-respected at all levels,” said Board Chairwoman Linda Dunlavy, who’s also the executive director of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

Dunlavy said the hiring committee interviewed six people, and Blais was selected as the top candidate by every member.

“She came in with a 90-day plan on what she would do if she got the position and had well prepared answers,” Dunlavy said. “It was a great interview, everyone was really impressed with her.”

The Chamber of Commerce has been without an executive director since Ann Hamilton retired at the end of December.

Blais will be introduced to Chamber members and the community at the Chamber Breakfast on June 23, as well as at Meet and Greet events that will be scheduled later in the summer. She will begin at the Chamber in August after wrapping up her current responsibilities at UMass.

“I always enjoyed working with Ann Hamilton and the Chamber,” Blais said. “She was a fierce advocate for the region, and I always said that I would apply for this job when she retired, so I did.”

She said she’s thrilled to take on the new role, and looks forward to helping bolster the region’s tourism industry and improve job training to help keep the “best and brightest” in the area.

“The strength of Franklin County is its people,” she said. “There are a number of strong industries including tourism, health care, education and manufacturing, and I think that there are many building blocks that we can build upon to strengthen the region’s economy.”

For example, Blais said there’s much to be gained from the new train stop in Greenfield. She hopes to find ways to encourage passengers to stop in town and tour the area. 

The Chamber also plays a critical role in helping the region with job training, Blais said, which could be used to help workers transition into different fields and encourage the younger generation to stay in Franklin County.

“We’re also working with the existing workforce to make sure that we’re using that workforce to the best of our ability,” she said.

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