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CEO Podcast: Pam McConeghy, Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce

May 30, 2024 Podcasts

In this episode, Pam McConeghy, CEO and President of the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce, and Paul discuss how the Brighton area has grown over time, despite COVID and the recessions during Pam’s tenure. Pam will be retiring from her position this fall and reflects on her passion for the community.


Paul Krutko: Welcome to Ann Arbor SPARK’s CEO Podcast…Conversations on Economic Opportunity. My name is Paul Krutko, and I’m the President and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. 

Joining me today is Pam McConeghy, CEO and President of the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce. Pam joined the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce in 2001, becoming President/CEO in 2005. She founded the Women’s Business Network and the Young Professionals Group. Pamela has held leadership roles such as President of the Brighton Rotary Club, and has served on multiple boards, including the Work Skills Corporation and Foundation, the Economic Development County of Livingston County, The Livingston County Convention & Visitors Bureau – Explore Brighton Howell and the Livingston County United Way. She has also been active in community projects serving as the Chair for the March for Babies Event and health awareness campaigns. Pam is set to retire this August, though she plans to remain active in the Brighton community by serving on various boards and committees, including the city’s Downtown Development Authority and the Livingston County Convention & Visitors Bureau – also known as Explore Brighton Howell.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Pam. That’s quite a list of organizations and accomplishments. We wanted to talk with you as you are retiring and get your perspective on your time leading the Chamber of Commerce. 

So one of the things is that you’ve led the Chamber there over two decades, both of significant growth in Louiston County, but really, a time of great change. Could you describe some of the major changes you’ve witnessed in the Brighton community during your tenure?

Pam McConeghy: Right. Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you for having me, Paul, on your show, and I’m grateful and privileged to be here. Well, I’ve seen a lot in the past 23 years in the Brighton area, but it’s not just Brighton that we represent. So we represent, we’re more of a regional chamber, so we have three other chambers that are under our belt. So it has been all of those areas, but I know we’re probably talking mostly about Brighton today, and Brighton has seen tremendous growth. So I came in and then I went through the recession and that was a very tough time for our downtown, but our downtown made it through. We did lose some businesses, but we made it through. 

Then since then, we’ve had some major growth from major organizations such as the U of M building a health center in downtown Brighton, and Vail Resorts invested in Mount Brighton, and that was a biggie because Mount Brighton is not that large, but they decided to invest and they put a lot of money into it, and then now Trinity’s new hospitals coming in, and it’s a wonderful growth area, primarily because it’s a beautiful area and it’s well-established area, but because of US-23 and I-96, it’s a good area.

Paul: So how has the role of the Chamber of Commerce changed and evolved over the years? What did you have to do to adapt? I mean, you mentioned, and those of us who have those kinds of longer 10 years, when we talk about the recession, we’re talking about the one that was happening. There was only one in 2000. There was one in 2006. So what, what were the kind of things you had to do to adapt and change the Chamber’s mission during those times?

Pam: Well, we’ve had to just keep on working hard. I’m a praying person and I have prayed a lot for this chamber, and we have seen so many miracles. And one of the things that we did in the recession is that we were deep in the line of credit, and I sort of inherited a lot of that. And so we were deep in the line of credit and I somehow miraculously worked with the Downtown Development Authority, and that is, I serve on that board as well. And with Ron Long, who was at First National Bank, which is now Bank of Ann Arbor, and I saw this building here on Grand River, a beautiful old hospital, and I just went for it and I did everything in my power to get this building because I could see that that would create a different environment, and somehow we did get it. He was in foreclosure and run along. He had other buyers, but he was wonderful and went along with us, the DDA did whatever we wanted, purchased our land at the old farmhouse. We had a little yellow farmhouse, and we were able to get into this building. And miraculously with that, we were able to renovate this building and we somehow were not in the line of credit anymore, and it just was new birth for us, and it’s been wonderful ever since just being in this building, and it’s a wonderful business hub for our members.

Paul: No, I know that when I started here, which is probably mid through your tenure, you were in that building, and I know that’s when we started to work with Livingston County. That was one of the places where we hung our hat and still do, and it’s kind of a signature building. And it was great that you were not only able to resolve the financial situation that you’re describing, but you also were able to save that building and put it back to use.

Pam:  And I was instrumental on a committee that wanted Ann Arbor SPARK to come in and to do our economic development. And so I was really glad when you were chosen from the EDCLC, and it’s worked out beautifully. We have a great relationship with you. You have an office in this building, and I know that Marsha and Tami, they’re all very busy people, but I do see them regularly and I’m still serving on that board, which I’ve really enjoyed.

Paul: Yeah, it was interesting because when SPARK started, there wasn’t this notion that we would do anything beyond Washtenaw County. And at that moment, I guess it was flattering that the leadership across the various sectors, including yourself, had this notion that maybe we could help in Livingston County as well. And so we’ve been doing that since now it’s almost 12 years. 

Pam: I know, time flies. But yes, we had a regional cooperation group with the different municipalities like Brighton Township, Green Oak Township, City of Brighton, Hamburg, and we all wanted to get Ann Arbor SPARK, and so we made it happen.

Paul: Yeah, it’s been successful in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish, I think one of the goals, I think at the beginning, and you mentioned the recession, particularly the one around 2006, 2008, I think there was a notion that we needed to be bringing more jobs to Livingston County. There were beautiful housing developments, lots of people like to live there, but there was a bit of an imbalance. Lots of people were leaving Brighton to work in other counties, other places. And so I think that’s the thing we’re most proud of is that we’ve been able to work over time to be bringing employment opportunities to Livingston County so people could live close to where they work, which was the notion. 

Tell us about what happened during the pandemic. It was a challenging time, and how did you manage through all of that?

Pam: Well, we received word that we needed to close down as everybody else did. And so I had to let everybody go. All of my staff, I let them go, and I was home that first day and I was on the couch and I was thinking, I can’t do this. I cannot do this. So I went to work, and then I basically worked by myself for eight months and learned everything from top to bottom, all the different jobs, which like Paul, you don’t need to do all those different jobs, but I had to learn it because it had to be done. And then I went after whatever money that I could for our chamber and for our members, and I just really worked so hard and doing all of that. Once in a while, I have a couch in my office in the afternoon, take a 10 minute nap, and then I would get going again. But I did that for eight months, and then I hired somebody part-time in September, and then I hired a couple of people that were salespeople but commission only and they’re still here. And then I didn’t really need to pay them unless they made money, and they were both retired people. And then slowly but surely, we started coming back.

So right now we’re up to our eight people again and we’re doing great.

Paul: So during that time, I would imagine that you were in that role fielding lots of inquiries from businesses about how they could function, what were some new ideas, and that kind of thing, right? 

Pam: I would put on programs for the PPP loans and how to get them, and then I connected people with experts in the area. I was constantly doing that, and it was really nice because even a couple of the downtown merchants brought me flowers for helping them. I mean, the little things like that you don’t forget, but I did have the chamber open. The chamber was open. I was always sanitizing. I got the special type of a system to sanitize the germs. I mean, I think looking back now, it probably wasn’t necessary, but everything was sanitized, and I let the people still come in and I went against the orders, but I’m a baby boomer, and that is just how we operate. I’m proud to be a baby boomer because it’s that work ethic that you just continue to fight the good fight all the way along. And I’ve had tremendous passion for our members and just a heart for them. And when they hurt, I hurt. And so that’s how that goes.

Paul: Well, we were happy at that moment, and I know you worked closely with us on that. The state identified that they wanted to make some funds available for small businesses, and they looked to, there’s 12 of us in the state, the regional economic development organizations, specifically. And we were able to, over time, we distributed quite a bit of resources that really either of us was in our lane. We’re mostly trying to help businesses by training and communication, but to be involved in providing specific grants so people could stay open was really something that I think was really, really beneficial. We never got enough money, but we had enough that we could help some businesses.

Pam: I know. I remember that very clearly. And that was wonderful that you did that, and we worked alongside with you with that. And also, Lake Trust also created a grant or grants for our downtown, and that was very helpful too. And then we raised extra money on top of that for the downtown because people just needed it. We just wanted to keep them going, and we were out of our lane, but maybe that is a lane we should always remain in.

Paul: Yeah, I think it was just sort of the helping hand kind of thing to keep people going, because there was going to be the other side. I guess, for younger folks who didn’t live through a crisis like that, it was very, should I say, are we going to come out of it? But I think as you said, those of a little older generation said, oh yeah, there’ll be another side of this. So how do we get people to the other side? 

Well, you mentioned sort of reaching out for our involvement in Livingston County, but you’ve been involved in a lot of civic initiatives. What are some of the things that you think were really important that you were involved in, and why do you believe civic engagement is so essential for someone like you?

Pam: Well, I think that civic engagement, the chamber is a center of gravity for business here in the county, and I just think it’s so important. We’re close knit community. We’re a close knit county, and it’s so important to help out where you can help out. So I still serve, I’m not gone yet, but I still serve on the housing catalysts for Livingston County and Transportation and a Trinity campaign for their new building and all sorts of other things. 

I’ve been involved in the downtown development authorities, downtown Streetscape. That was hard on the downtown merchants, but we made it through and it’s beautiful now. And I just think it’s so important whether you serve on human services. When I first came into this job, I did a lot with the human services, with the United Way and the Collaborative Body, and that was good, but still, and it’s very important, but still, the Chamber of Commerce is a business, and so you have to really round it out. But it’s important to be supportive. Everybody Daily asks us to help, and daily we do. We do. We always say yes, and I think that’s a good thing.

Paul: Yeah, I think the thing is about chambers and economic development organizations in general that some of the public don’t understand, is that for a lot of the businesses that they encounter, those folks may not know how to do some specific thing or what a specific resource is. And so what I think you do, we do, is we’re sort of a clearinghouse for people where they come and they have a problem, and you’ve heard that problem maybe 50 or a hundred times before. And so you can help them get to that point. Because when people run in their businesses, a lot of times they’re just heads down running their business, and then they run into a problem and who do they turn to? And so I think that’s one of the real values of Chambers in general across the country, has been my experience. 

So what are your hopes, I mean, for the community now, I mean, I was just up there meeting with David Snodgrass, the CEO of Lake Trust in downtown Brighton, and it was just hopping with people and vibrant. And so that must feel good when you go in those same areas yourself. But what are you hoping happens now in the community in the next few years?

Pam: Well, I think that we are going to continue to thrive and to grow in that community, we needed to have the streetscape to be behind us so that businesses would want to come in, and the businesses do want to come in. It is a thriving area, and the restaurants are doing very well. It’s even surrounding the City of Brighton, it’s a thriving area, and we’re going to have just some issues with the interchange. They’re going to be doing the interchange. It seems like we’ve had a lot of construction that will affect the area, and that interchange is going to take a few years to get finished at I-96 and Grand River, but we need that as well. So there are going to be some hardships, but we will have to work through that. I won’t be here, but I’ll be here in heart and soul. But the downtown is doing well. The leaders in the downtown, the city council, the city manager, the mayor, they’re all wonderful people, and they really care so much about the City of Brighton.

Paul: Well, I think that you can tell that the growth is happening. I mean, I read somewhere what the stature of Livingston County in general is in terms of its economy and things like that. It’s one of the top counties in the state, but then you see what’s happening. There’s no clear indication of an area that is growing and has success when both hospital systems want to invest and create facilities.

Pam: I know, that makes a statement, doesn’t it?

Paul: It sure does. And I have to tell you, one of my physicians is up there, so I come up there regularly, so I’m pretty familiar with it. 

Well, we’re going to kind of close out here. This is a question that always gets asked when you’re at the point where you are. So as you are now departing, what kind of advice would you give to your successor or anybody who’s beginning to lead a Chamber of Commerce? What kind of advice do you have for them?

Pam: Well, I’ve sort of done things my way here. I’ve had a supportive board, and I’ve done things my way, and I’ve just shot from the heart and I’ve just cared. Now, that just comes from me internally as a person, and I can’t help having that passion. It’s going to be very hard for me to leave, but it’s time to leave. And I would just say to him, his name is Gavin Johnson, and he’s coming in, he’s a former principal at Brighton High School. He has to make his own way. He has to find things that are really important to him. It is not a cookie cutter job. He knows the employees here, he knows what they do. We’re all departmentalized here, and they run beautifully, the different departments. But I would just say I hope that he just has that passion and that heart to work with the members and to continue to care, because I think our members know that I care so much and have led the Chamber in that way. And he’s coming from a different background. He’s coming from education, and I’ve told him education is wonderful, and I know that that is his niche. But to remember that it is a business and you have to be very creative, and you have to just put those members in the community first because we received so many requests from our members and the community at large that you have to just have patience and just put them first and just love what you do. But I know that he has a plan. He has a one year, three year, and five year strategic plan that he’s working on. And so I’ll see what it is that he’s doing. It’ll be different to look from outside. 

Paul: Well, I think one of the things that you embody, which I think any leader of a chamber or a community facing organization that you embody, is that A, you’re  really an advocate for the success of all your members, right? I mean, the job is, yeah, you’re right. Your chamber itself is a business that you have to manage well, but your product, if I say this way, is really the advocacy on behalf of your members. And then I think the other piece that you have embodied over your time there is what I always think is a really important word is empathy. The understanding that perhaps a member is under a lot of stress and is trying to achieve something, and how can you understand that and how can you be supportive and help them achieve what they want to achieve? So I think you’ve embodied those two things that I think are very important, that empathy and then the advocacy for them. 

So as it comes out, one of the questions that the team wrote for me, and I think it’s always a cute one, is there a particular story or an experience that really highlights for you something you look back on and it’s just you’re very happy it occurred or just stands out?

Pam: Well, I mentioned buying the old hospital. That was really interesting. And the things that happened in this old building were very interesting and scary to some people. But we’ve had some experiences in this old building as we moved in, and that’s another story in itself. But I think I am really happy with our events and creating the Smoke and Jazz Barbecue Blues Festival that has brought in hundreds of thousands of people of all ethnicities and which is good for this county. So I was really happy with that, and that is going to continue on. And it was really good for the downtown, the whole area. And then the Chamber, it was a good fundraiser. And then I’m happy about creating a Christmas Market, and that has really taken off, and that is around the holiday season. I don’t know. I guess I just love what I do here, and I love everything, and I love the people, and I love our staff. And so everything is just really special to me.

Paul: I know soon for me, I’m going to be in the same situation as you are. And if you get to a point in your career, in a job, that you really enjoy the job you have. For some people when they retire, they can’t wait to walk out the door for other people, it’s a real challenge. Hey, just as a shameless plug, when is the barbecue festival coming up? What are the dates? 

Pam: It’s the weekend after Labor Day. And then we also have a Yellowstone event at Mount Brighton, and that is in June. And we have events, it’s event season in Pinkney with Art in the Park, and it is event season. So the new person has to know also that he has to work hard and he has to do a lot of cleanup, and it’s not easy and looks easy, but it is not easy.

Paul: Well, you’re describing something that is true here at SPARK. Whenever we have an event, I mean, whenever I hire a new person, I make sure they understand that yes, that’s your job, but when we have an event, it’s all hands on deck.

Well, thanks Pam. We really appreciate you taking time to talk with us. 

Pam: Really appreciate you having me on, Paul, and it’s nice seeing you and have a wonderful trip.

Paul: Thank you. Well, I want to thank our audience for listening and learning more about those leaders and organizations working hard to create the Ann Arbor region’s economic future. These conversations are brought to you by Ann Arbor SPARK. For more information about Ann Arbor SPARK, you can find us at the web at We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.. We’re got ’em all. So take care, Pam.

Pam: Okay. You take care too, Paul. Thank you so much.

Pam McConeghy’s Bio

Pam joined the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce in 2001, becoming President/CEO in 2005. She founded the Women’s Business Network and the Young Professionals Group. Pamela has held leadership roles such as President of the Brighton Rotary Club, and has served on multiple boards, including the Work Skills Corporation and Foundation, the Economic Development County of Livingston County, The Livingston County Convention & Visitors Bureau – Explore Brighton Howell and the Livingston County United Way. She has also been active in community projects serving as the Chair for the March for Babies Event and health awareness campaigns. Pam is set to retire this August, though she plans to remain active in the Brighton community by serving on various boards and committees, including the city’s Downtown Development Authority and the Livingston County Convention & Visitors Bureau – also known as Explore Brighton Howell.