A meeting with Jason Blanks is an energy-boosting experience. Even a phone conversation is like a shot of espresso, because Blanks, the new executive director of the Southfield Area Chamber of Commerce, has an incredible amount of energy.
And it’s infectious.
That’s a good thing, because Blanks has hit the ground running with a list of goals and action items. He comes to the Chamber with a rich career history in the public and nonprofit sectors.
“I’ve been in this role for two weeks now, and it has been super rewarding,” says Blanks. “I’ve met so many great people. Everyone is so welcoming.”
In his first two weeks, Blanks has developed a partnership with the Detroit chapter of the Association for Talent Development, a nonprofit professional development organization, to offer training to Southfield Area Chamber members. Courses in engagement with visuals, workforce revolution, and leading in the digital age are some examples that member organizations can benefit from. He’s also gearing up for a one-on-one series to engage with small businesses and offer whatever tools, insight, and direction they may need.
“Our goal is to make sure businesses have the resources to be successful,” Blanks says. “We want to make sure our partners are receiving that individualized service.”
A service-dedicated career
When Blanks was an industrial engineering student at Western Michigan University, he recognized that a career in engineering might not allow him the level of human interaction he enjoyed. “I thought I might be better suited to working in hospitals, so I switched my degree to pre-med.” While completing his degree, Blanks worked full time at Hope Network, assisting individuals with cognitive behavioral issues.
Blanks graduated and moved back to southeast Michigan to work as a case manager in a grant-funded prisoner reentry initiative at the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency, where he would steadily move up the management chain and gain valuable experience and a skill for connecting people to services and resources. At OLHSA, he filled a supervisory role with Head Start, and wrote and facilitated a grant program for the DNR and Department of Justice aimed to provide employment readiness skills to youth between 15 and 18 years old.
“My background switched once I received these grants, and I was able to bring in additional funding to a group of individuals not being served,” Blanks says.
When the grant ended, Blanks transitioned to the City of Detroit where he worked as operations general manager in human resources, managing a $40 million budget and database tracking system. Still, Blanks was able to facilitate a charitable giving campaign with the United Way.
“I still have a heart and passion for giving back to the community,” he says.
An executive director position with the Humane Society of Monroe County gave Blanks his first executive director-level experience and granted him the responsibility of building memberships and bringing dollars into the agency to benefit animals and their community.
“We facilitated about eight charitable campaigns and auctions,” says Blanks. “It was a very unique experience.”
Southfield Area Chamber: a “perfect fit”
When the chance to lead the Southfield Area Chamber of Commerce presented itself, Blanks was eager to step in.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I had already worked closely with the chamber in Monroe, and I was interested in this position because I knew I could make a major impact in the city where I live, right in my own community.”
Currently, Blanks is working to learn as much as he can about the business climate in Southfield, including the Southfield City Centre, so he can create specific programming. He’s building on his strong skill of connecting people and building relationships to help grow businesses and resources.
When Blanks isn’t busy building connections, he’s supporting his wife, who works for the State of Michigan, and cheering on their three sons in their extracurricular sporting pursuits of basketball, soccer, and swimming.
Heeding the words of his past career mentors, Blanks has built a philosophy that he applies to both his personal and his business life. “As long as you are working to get the job done, put your all into it,” Blanks says. “And I do that with every aspect of my life.”
Blanks replaces Tanya Markos-Vanno, who left the Chamber in September for a business development role at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.