On a downtown street corner recently, The Chronicle had occasion to witness an informal idea pitch from Hal Davis to Jesse Bernstein, president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce: Busker Week for downtown Ann Arbor – where independent musicians would explicitly be invited to come perform in Ann Arbor’s downtown. Bernstein’s reaction can fairly be described as positive.
But if Bernstein helps Busker Week to join Sonic Lunch on downtown Ann Arbor’s summer musical calendar, it won’t be as president of the chamber. Bernstein told staff at 4 p.m. Tuesday that his last day leading the organization will be June 30, 2009. It ends three year’s of Bernstein’s leadership of the area business organization.
Speaking by phone Tuesday evening with The Chronicle, Bernstein said he counted among his accomplishments as head of the chamber a change in location for the organization’s offices to the Dahlman property at 115 West Huron. Two years ago, the chamber signed a 10-year lease for the space, which provides a more welcoming layout for the organization, says Bernstein. In the old space – at the other end of Main Street in the DTE building – visitors were first confronted with Venetian blinds on the windows to a conference room, which had a somewhat uninviting effect.
Bernstein said he’s also proud of a change to the membership structure that was undertaken on his watch – while members still pay membership fees based in part on the size of their organization, they have the option of different tiers within that system to opt for greater or fewer value benefits. A Chair Circle membership, for example, includes a scholarship to the LEAD Institute, and a trip to visit the Herman Miller furniture factory – a western Michigan company that is on course, says Bernstein, to achieve zero waste in its operations by 2020. “You heard me right,” he said, “zero waste.”
With the chamber’s informal program cycle of September to June, Bernstein felt that now – at the conclusion of the program year – was a good time to step down. The chamber wound up its Morning Edition program at the University of Michigan Museum of Art last Wednesday.
Board chair Ed Pagani couldn’t be reached for comment. In a statement released by the chamber Wednesday morning, Pagani said, “The Chamber is truly sorry to see Jesse leave, but we wish him the very best in his future ventures. His contribution to the organization, and the community as a whole, has been appreciated and valued.” The board’s executive committee will oversee the organization while they conduct a search for the new president, according to the statement.
What’s next for Bernstein? He said he’s tried retirement before, but that he hadn’t managed to stay retired for long. First, though, he will take some time off. For the longer haul, he said, “I’ll still be around. I’m not going anywhere!” He also serves as a board member for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
We asked him if he would eventually be looking for an interesting topic to work on, or was it more the mix of people he was interested in. Bernstein’s answer: “I have to be passionate about what it is.” That’s what made the chamber job come easily to him, he said – he was passionate about representing Ann Arbor and its businesses.