Getting To Know The Saline Chamber's New Executive Director
The brand new Executive Director of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce was only on the job for about three hours when the Sun Times News came to visit the chamber’s low-ceilinged office above Carrigan. Jeff Williams sat down at a conference table in his new office, underneath one of the numerous skylights that bring light to the desks and exposed brick walls of the third floor of the building Carrigan Café is in, for an interview to introduce himself to the community, Friday afternoon.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The Sun Times News: What kind of experience do you have?
Jeff Williams: I have been in finance for 35 years. I actually started out as a financial analyst over at Pro Quest, [which] used to be University Microfilm back in the mid-80s. I spent my first 20 years in corporate finance, helping do mergers, acquisitions and initial public offerings. After we did an IPO with my software company, we were acquired by Emerson Electric, and that enabled me to begin my own publishing company.
My undergrad from Michigan was in political science and English Lit, so I began a publishing company that was centered on genealogy. I did that for seven years, won two awards from the state of North Carolina in family history. Then my master’s was in public administration at Eastern. It sold in 42 states and four countries.
After that was done, I went into non-profit finance. For the last 13 years I’ve been a chief financial officer for several universities on the East Coast, in Michigan. My first university was Concordia University – Ann Arbor. And then I spent a year in Vietnam, helping a K12 school setup that was supported by Concordia.
I’ve pretty much been all over. I thought I was going to retire when Covid was around, [but] I was bored, so my last two roles have been interim CFO roles in Michigan.
So, you can’t retire?
Williams: No. I’m not built that way.
This position, when I learned of it, it was a perfect vehicle to take. My mission for the last 35 years has been making institutions more profitable, by helping enrollment where possible and marketing as much as much as a CFO can market. So this is a perfect vehicle to take that mission and move it forward. My Mom and sister have been long time Saline residents, so this is the first time we’re all back together in the same city in 25 years.
What are Saline’s best business assets, in your opinion?
I’m still learning that. I think that my exposure to Saline has always been that, even when I was around the world in Vietnam, this is where I always come for family holidays. … I would be able to experience the city through that lens; and it just seems very customer friendly, it seems [like a] small town, in the best possible way. I always enjoyed the aspect of coming home to Saline because it was always where my sister was.
You’re just starting out, but do you have any plans for the future?
If I spoke too quickly it would be off the cuff. But I do know in terms of the chamber’s potential … is to enable the chamber to be a better vehicle for communication for the possibilities of businesses working together to create added value. You walk around here [during the] Saturday morning farmer’s market and you see the potential for what could be. I have a lot of learning to do, but there’s great potential in this town. Covid has been a speed bump to that, but what we’ve lost some connectivity between the citizens, businesses and perhaps some other institutions, but I think we can all grow stronger together.
The Mayor has said that the biggest problem with Saline is the lack of medical options available locally. Do you agree that Saline’s geography makes it a logical place to be the sub-medical center for the southern quarter or so of the county? What options do you have to bring medical options to Saline?
I can’t comment on the specifics since I’m new to the area. I do know that I have a mother that’s in the upper quartile of age – I’m not getting any younger myself – I’d love to see more healthcare options in the area. My first position was [as a] senior financial analyst for Michigan Medicine, back in the 90s. Having those options closer to home would be wonderful. … I happened to look in Google yesterday for the nearest ER, on Michigan Avenue. It was a center but now it’s closed because of Covid. I don’t know what the plans are for the timing of that opening [back] up, but it’s been welcome.
TSTN: Pittsfield Township, and especially the city of Saline, are pushing major infrastructure investments; most notably the Saline wastewater treatment plants expansion and modernization. What is your general approach on infrastructure?
Williams: My first fore back into non-profit, was as the finance director for [the] Ypsilanti Community Utility Authority; which was a tertiary wastewater treatment plant. It’s very complicated, but a very important role. … I think it’s very important to choose the site correctly, but I really don’t know any more about it, then what I’ve read in the papers.
Another thing that has been an issue for the entire county has been cost of living. What can the chamber do to do right by the business community, but also establish a community where people of all income levels can realistically live in Saline?
I think part of the reason that the cost of living has gone up as far as product costs is because we’ve found out how dependent we were on non-US and non-regional suppliers. One of the things that I envision is when at all possible, we buy locally, so we become less dependent of foreign and non-regional suppliers. I think there’s a great resource here in the county … for us to use local vendors. By using local vendors, it drives down costs and supports our own community. It’s like a money multiplier effect.
Headline image: Jeff Williams. Photo provided by the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce.