Put on your shades Great Lakes Bay Region. The four remarkable recipients of the fourth annual Great Lakes Bay Business Women Leaders Awards light up our world with hope and inspiration (and, yes, some mighty fine sweet treats, too!).
JoAnn Crary dedicates her talents to promoting economic development and job growth. Kathy Conklin nurtures business and education partnerships that help residents with limited resources not only find employment but self-esteem as well. A passion for cupcakes puts Heather Rousseau on the path to sweet success, while Dr. Chelsea Mason brightens smiles in the community she loves to call home.
They’re empowered and passionate, humble and hardworking.
Now is their time to shine.
President, Saginaw Future Inc.
Working comfortably behind the scenes is one of Saginaw County’s most powerful influencers on economic development and job growth.
JoAnn Crary is president of Saginaw Future Inc., a private non-profit countywide economic development organization. During her 22 years at the helm, the organization has assisted 590 companies with new locations or expansions. The results: more than 23,900 jobs created and retained along with new investment of 6.5 billion dollars.
But she’s the first to point out the many people who come together to make every deal work. “There are so many amazing leaders in our region that help make this happen. It’s not about one person; it’s about all of us working together to make a difference,” says Crary.
Crary is currently chair of the International Economic Development Council board of directors—a nod to her talent and expertise, considering the position is usually held by directors from large, metropolitan areas. She also serves on 12 state and local boards.
Combining confidence, compassion, and humility, Crary credits much of her success to her parents who rooted her in faith and family. “They taught us that we are all equal and that I should never feel intimidated or awed by anyone, but at the same time, to treat even the least of our brothers with respect and dignity.”
The philosophy serves her well with her eight-person team. “I think that effective leaders have patience; they empower their employees and instill a sense of trust in their organization. I try to live by a ‘no drama’ rule and that we work together as a team. The only one that we work for is the customer, not each other. And family always comes first,” says the mother of two.
“I always tell my children that it’s so important to be a problem solver. If you can solve problems, you can make it in life.”
Owner/Pastry Chef, SugarHigh Bakery, SugarRush Sweets, SugarHigh Café
Ten years after graduating from Flushing High School in 2005, Heather Rousseau sits in her SugarHigh Bakery in Frankenmuth, surrounded by the sweet smell of success.
But she’s not quite sitting still. It’s as if you can see her mind spinning, tackling the task at hand yet quietly tracking her to-do list in the back of her head.
Five years ago—at the age of 22—she opened the bakery located in Frankenmuth River Place Shops with financial support from her family. “I definitely think ignorance was bliss at that point. Honestly, if I would’ve known everything I know now, then I wouldn’t have done it. I would have chickened out.”
Luckily, she didn’t. Because this pint-sized entrepreneur’s sweet tooth sits in a hard head for business.
Since opening in 2010, she and her husband, Adam Rousseau, have watched production double each year. They’ve gone from no employees and sleeping at the bakery to 26 to 30 employees, given the season. And, in the past two years, they’ve bought and overhauled two more shops in Frankenmuth: SugarRush Sweets (also in River Place) and the SugarHigh Café (on Main Street).
“I like being able to do what I want; if I want to make a different flavor of cupcake, I can,” says Rousseau on the benefits of entrepreneurship. “I enjoy marketing. I enjoy advertising. I enjoy business. And I enjoy decorating cakes. So, it is tough when I don’t have time to do a lot of each thing. It’s a balance for sure.”
Looking ahead, Rousseau plans to keep working and refining her current businesses, being careful not to get too far ahead of herself. “I’m definitely a quality over quantity person,” she says.
“But,” she adds with entrepreneurial spirit coursing through her veins like an old-fashioned sugar high, “if an opportunity comes up, I’m always ready to take it.”
Executive Director and Success Coach, Saginaw County Business & Education Partnership
Every day is like Christmas for Kathy Conklin.
As executive director of the Saginaw County Business & Education Partnership, Conklin is part of ongoing efforts to connect people who want to work with workplaces that need people. And, when those collaborative efforts come together to make something new, “it’s fun to see,” she says.
“We have great opportunities in the Great Lakes Bay Region for employment,” explains Conklin, who also serves as executive director of the Great Lakes Bay Manufacturers Association. “There are some wonderfully run businesses that are successful and could provide a career pathway for youths and adults. It’s finding out how to connect people with those positions and get them skilled up.”
That’s where Conklin and her team come in. They develop and implement programs such as Community Ventures, which places unemployed and under-employed residents into full-time, long-term employment. Since 2012, more than 775 people have entered the program with an 83 percent retention rate.
She also facilitates Career Links for the Saginaw Intermediate School District, an in-school program that—with the help of area businesses and teachers—provides engaging math and science classes for more than 400 at-risk youths.
“There are so many people working together to make sure that we’ve got the right education and training and that it’s delivered in a manner beneficial to employees or future employees and employers,” says Conklin, using the applied manufacturing engineering technology program at Delta College as another example.
But it’s on Tuesday nights when Conklin teaches a class for Community Venture participants at Nexteer that she finds true joy. As a success coach, she helps the participants discover how important their thoughts are in developing their habits, attitudes, and beliefs.
“We talk a lot with our people about what’s the story you’re telling yourself, and how many places you fill in the blanks [with negative thoughts],” says Conklin. Fortunately, with the help of Conklin, many are rewriting their own success stories.
Chelsea Mason, DDS, PLLC
“We’re a people business,” says Dr. Chelsea Mason, sitting in her bustling office on Colony Drive in Saginaw Township. Fortunately, caring for patients and their families is what this vibrant 29-year-old loves most about being a dentist.
You could also say it runs in her family. Mason’s dad, stepdad, stepbrother, uncle, and sister are all practicing dental professionals, as was her great-grandfather.
But Mason is making her own impression.
After starting the Pre-dental Club at Albion College and graduating near the top of her class at University of Detroit-Mercy dental school, she recently became the youngest- ever inductee into the elite Pierre Fauchard Academy, an international dental honorary organization.
Returning to Saginaw, she joined her uncle, Dr. Michael Davis, at his family dentistry practice in 2013. As an equal partner, she now functions as CEO and manages the day-to-day operations of the business.
“I find that most of what I do during the day, the dentistry, is the easy part. All of the other stuff that you’re not trained in, I’m learning as I go,” says Mason. Given her family history, though, she doesn’t have to look far for advice. “I get lots of opinions,” she says with a laugh.
It’s Mason’s cheery demeanor and radiant smile that also make her a hit with kids, particularly those struggling with disabilities. She credits her team, some who’ve worked in the office more than 30 years, with helping her find ways to reduce anxiety for patients. She also finds time to get out in the community and teach kids about dental health.
“I love Saginaw. This is where I grew up, and this is definitely where I want to stay. I encourage young people and young professionals to come back to our area. It’s got a lot to offer. ”
Janie Gugino, past president, Women in Leadership Mid-Michigan/Inforum Great Lakes Bay Region, and community volunteer
Steve Canole, VP – Business Lender, 1stState Bank; Sandy Hermann, Retired VP of Internal Operations, Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance; Nancy Keipe Fody, Immediate Past President, Michigan State Medical Society Alliance; Jill M. Vondrasek, MBA, marketing and communications director, Michigan State University College of Nursing; and Dr. Rama Yelkur, Dean, College of Business and Management, Saginaw Valley State University