Suzanne Levine came to the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce over seven years ago, driven by a single mission: to connect local businesses and help them thrive.
“I realized that my skill set – being resourceful, creative, connecting the dots – all came into play,” Suzanne describes, reflecting on when she first came to the chamber. “Now I try to use my creativity and resourcefulness to help our businesses and our chamber. It’s been really fulfilling for me.”
As the Director of the Chamber, Suzanne truly does it all, working immensely hard to ensure the businesses in her community are taken care of. “There’s never a typical day. I’m responsible for just about everything,” Suzanne relays. “I’m a one-man band with a lot of great chamber board members that support me. With help from the board, I’m able to do the membership, finances, events, social media, and just about anything you can think of.”
Yet, Suzanne wouldn’t have it any other way. The West Bloomfield Chamber is a boutique chamber by design, giving Suzanne the ability to connect personally with each member. “I still believe that social media and advertising will never replace one-on-one,” Suzanne explains. “More than ever, people want to feel connected to something or someone. I will sit down and ask them all about their business, what makes them unique, and how I can help strategize and connect them one-on-one.”
Suzanne has developed a wide array of programs to better the lives and careers of her community. Since there are a lot of senior-related businesses in the area, the West Bloomfield Chamber hosts a monthly Senior Resource Group, where professionals teach the senior community classes on a variety of topics. “Especially during the pandemic, seniors have been so isolated, and it’s been difficult for them,” Suzanne explains. The group gives seniors a chance to connect with one another and learn crucial skills while also giving local businesses a way to get in front of their community. The classes are taking place virtually during COVID, but Suzanne hopes to move the sessions to the Connect Senior Center once it is safe to do so.
Beyond the senior group, Suzanne also established the Women’s Inspiration Network (WIN), which provides a space for female business owners to discuss a range of empowering subjects, from growing their businesses to guidance on how to be heard in the professional world. Suzanne also created the Business Innovation Generator (BIG), a free resource that helps small to medium-sized businesses evaluate their business plans. Then, she established the chamber’s Connect With An Expert series that airs on Facebook Live, giving business experts a platform to share their professional knowledge with the community at large.
“I just want people to know that your local chamber can be a fabulous resource for you,” Suzanne expresses earnestly. “Our small businesses – they’re the backbone of our country and our township. We need them. We need people to feel like they’re contributing and hopefully fulfilling part of their business dreams. Anything I can do to help facilitate that, I’m very excited to do. I often say I can’t cure cancer or the other problems plaguing our nation, but if I can keep someone in business for another week, a month, or a year, then I feel successful.”
No matter where she is, Suzanne is always trying to help her members build their network. “I’ll happily take someone by the arm and introduce them to someone else to get their conversation going. I’m sort of like a mother,” Suzanne laughs. “I nag you, but it’s because I’m looking out for your best interest.”
Suzanne continues, “It’s all about planting seeds. You don’t get a forest overnight. I see myself as a business matchmaker and I love it when I can put two people together that would never think about connecting and hopefully, they’ll do some business. You can never have too many connections.”
Yet, Suzanne recognizes how challenging it can be for businesses to find the time and resources to build their network without additional support to guide them. “As a small business, you’re going to have to reinvent yourself as you go along. There’s always going to be new competition and it’s never going to go away. You have to figure out what makes your business unique. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be something to someone. I try to help businesses figure out what their niche is and then help them capitalize on that.”
Suzanne also enjoys pairing members up with grants that can offer much-needed support. “Unless you know how to fill out these applications, it can be difficult for small businesses to figure out,” Suzanne recognizes. “We’re here to offer insight and support.”
This guidance has been crucial over the past year as many businesses faced hardships in the wake of COVID. Likewise, the West Bloomfield Chamber experienced its own road of challenges, unable to host their typical in-person events during the pandemic.
Yet, Suzanne spearheaded the way forward, using her resourcefulness and innovation to come up with a way to fill the gaps. The chamber decided to partner with Civic Center TV and Motown Digital to produce the Virtual Innovation Business Event (VIBE), which was basically a two-day television show with guest speakers, entertainment, and even a pet contest. Airing on the Hopin Virtual Platform and Facebook Live, the event was widely successful, drawing over 1,000 viewers.
“If I didn’t have a television background, I don’t think I could have pulled it off,” Suzanne admits. Previous to the chamber, Suzanne worked in radio broadcasting and eventually transitioned into television, where she wrote and produced all types of programs, from the auto show to dream cruise segments, winning innumerable awards along the way.
“I’ve reinvited my career so many times that I’ve lost track,” Suzanne continues. “It was lots of hard work – hours and hours. There were a lot of situations where things crashed, and I had to think on my feet. I don’t know if it’s something you can teach people, but it’s so important because life happens, sometimes things don’t go right, and you have to learn how to fix the situation.”
When Suzanne isn’t problem-solving, she’s treasure hunting. She finds the time to unwind by searching for hidden gems at garage and estate sales. She’ll then take the items and repackage them into gift bags for others. In fact, she recently delivered over 50 personalized gift baskets filled with china and trinkets to the night staff at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.
“I love putting together gifts and surprising people. I think it’s important that you do things not with the intention of getting something back,” Suzanne confides. “Anything we can do to help support one another - I think that’s a great thing. If you do the right thing, you will be rewarded in ways that you’ve never believed.”
If you'd like to learn more about the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, you can check them out here!