Bernstein to Leave Ann Arbor Chamber

"I'll still be around. I'm not going anywhere!"
Jesse Bernstein, Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce president

Jesse Bernstein, Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce president, has resigned his post. His last day in that job is June 30.

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.


  1. By Susan Lackey
    June 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm | permalink

    Jesse reflects the best of Ann Arbor’s business community — passionately committed not only to the area’s economic success, but also to its social, cultural and overall community success. A long line of such leaders is one of the things that sets this community apart from others. His enthusiasm will be missed, but I’m sure he’ll ‘unretire’ soon.

  2. June 24, 2009 at 4:01 pm | permalink

    We will miss Jesse’s infectious smile and optimism. Good luck wherever you land Jesse.

  3. By Leah Gunn
    June 24, 2009 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    I am very sorry to see Jesse leave the Chamber. He was a joy to work with, and his contributions to both the businesses in the area as well as to the whole community were of high value. I will miss his infectious grin and his bouyant personality.

  4. June 28, 2009 at 12:17 pm | permalink

    Jesse has done an incredibly fantastic job carrying on the mission of blending the east/west business issues of the County on our Workforce Development Board (Michigan Works!-ETCS). He hit the road running carrying on the work of Woody. The County is better for it. Jesse has promised to not let all the great work go down the tubes and help us push it even further. Thanks Jesse, we aren’t finish with you yet!

  5. June 28, 2009 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    Excuse me, I referenced Woody Holman, and Jim Frenza…. both legendaries…..who got the movement going.

  6. By Donna Roth
    July 1, 2009 at 5:41 pm | permalink

    We are so fortunate to have Jesse Bernstein involved in the enhancement of our community. For years, he has served in many significant capacities. Always leaving his postition with the agency or organization in a far better position. Jesse leaves his mark which is a fresh and innovative direction for the future. I look forward to his next adventure. It will be another plus for the Ann Arbor area and will be tempered with his great sense of humor. Jesse is a real treasure. To know him is to love him (The Teddy Bears,1958).