Meet the New Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Jen Dean

May 20, 2022 | by Adam Willems

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Photo by Ashley Brooke Twomey

Like many Seattle-area residents living near the I-90 corridor, Jen Dean often drove through Mercer Island, but rarely to it. “I always had this desire to stop,” the Eastside local says, as she loves finding local coffee shops and hidden gems.

As the new Executive Director of the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce, Dean now seeks out those special places as part of her job. She finds herself in the unique position of taking a deep dive into Mercer Island’s culture and business landscape even as she leverages her outside experience to effectively market local businesses to people living both on and off the island.

Dean previously worked for the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce as Director of Operations and Events, managing everything from finances to creative projects, and spearheading successful programs like wine walks, holiday parties, and youth initiatives. Dean hopes to adapt her successes in Kirkland to Mercer Island; she aims to be a visible and vocal champion and help businesses grow their customer base, while letting locals and curious outsiders better understand the services and opportunities available to them.

 “And as the city approaches growth options, [I want to] make sure that small businesses are heard both locally and widely throughout the state as decisions are made,” says Dean.

With light rail around the corner, and other transit options already here, she acknowledges that the island will have to balance its growth with preservation of its feel. If rent for commercial space increases, she fears the island losing local businesses and losing its charm. But she also knows better public transportation can bring benefits by deepening ties to nearby communities. Lobbying on behalf of local businesses in Olympia and intentionally placing locally owned businesses in new commercial spaces can help the island both welcome more people and do so with unique services, Dean believes.

Photo by Ashley Brooke Twomey

Dean transparently acknowledges that she doesn’t have all the answers, and is, in her words, still in the “learning stages.” With that exploration in mind, and to have the Chamber match how local businesses are reopening from the pandemic, she’s hosting an open house every Tuesday and Thursday in May at the Chamber of Commerce offices in the hopes of meeting as many local business owners and residents as she can over coffee and snacks. She wants to glean what Mercer Island needs most: early versus late events, online marketing advice, help with retail space, and so forth.

Dean plans to distribute a regular newsletter covering local events and volunteering opportunities. She considers the Chamber of Commerce’s role as both helping businesses grow and deepening community ties—and she believes enthusiasm for Mercer Island can become contagious as well as the island’s greatest asset.

She envisions the island as a destination where, on any given evening, locals and visitors alike can gather in the town center and enjoy themselves at unique restaurants, shops, and events. “Mercer Island is a great middle point between Seattle and the Eastside, and I don’t feel like it’s utilized enough for people passing through or needing a great meeting space,” she said. “I’d like to see people in the next couple of years who, instead of just driving over to Bellevue or over to Seattle to meet, they’d be like, ‘Well, let’s meet in the middle at Mercer Island.’”

A first step is to help businesses as they reopen during the ongoing pandemic. “I want to really help everybody get back, not necessarily get back into the swing of the thing, but… to get going again,” Dean says. “And so I think a big component for the chamber is just letting the community know that we’re here and accessible for their needs.”

Once visitors do get here, Dean is excited for them to see what she has since beginning her role: “I’ve noticed how friendly and kind everyone is,” she says. “Everybody’s very gracious and welcoming.”