People of the Year: Dennis Saunier

Sixteen years ago, Dennis Saunier’s office on Market Avenue N was home to a colony of pigeons and the occasional stray cat.

Sixteen years ago, Dennis Saunier’s office on Market Avenue N was home to a colony of pigeons and the occasional stray cat.

The Millennium Centre, the downtown building that now houses the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce offices, stood abandoned. Now, his office is filled with photographs, footballs and other mementos from his 36 years of marketing Stark County. The nearly full-length wall of windows overlooks a downtown Canton that Saunier, as CEO and president of the Chamber, helped bring back from the brink.

That is just one of the reasons Saunier is one of About Magazine’s People of the Year.

It’s hard to find a Stark County project that Saunier hasn’t touched since taking the helm at the chamber in 2001.

In August, the county’s two largest chambers—the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson-Belden Chamber of Commerce—merged. The deal, which brought together roughly 1,800 members, came about after about a year of planning and collaboration between the two organizations.

“I think it’s a major, major accomplishment that was only made possible because of the vision of the business leadership representative on the boards of both organizations,” he said.

Merging allows the chamber to host more events for small businesses, gives members a louder voice on business public policy issues, creates a more unified approach to marketing both communities and better opportunities to both attract new businesses to Stark County and grow the businesses already here, Saunier said.

“It’s a model for how organizations in the community should review their purpose and mission and how best to serve those they represent,” he said. “By doing this, we brought two communities closer together and made it more affordable and with better programming for our memberships.”

“This is regionalism at work; showing that we’re stronger together as communities,” he added.

poy_denny1Saunier is quick to rattle off the abundance of projects in which the chamber is involved. To name a handful—the ongoing revitalization of downtown Canton and the creation of downtown events, Canton’s comprehensive plan, the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village project, the Mills Business Park, the Civic Leadership Committee and programs such as ystark!, the Stark County Safety Council and Leadership Stark County.

“There is very little we’re not involved in in the community,” Saunier said.

Saunier is even faster to name the other organizations and individuals working with the chamber.

“I tell people I have arguably the best job in the community because I get to work with all these different sectors and individuals,” he said. “I think this is probably one of the most selfless communities that I know, that people are willing to roll up their sleeves and work together.”

He also has plenty of praise for the people he works side-by-side with every day. Everything the chamber does is a team effort, he said.

“I’m surrounded by some of the best, brightest, hardest working people,” he said.

Outside of his work at the chamber, Saunier has served on numerous committees including leadership roles at Malone University, the Akron-Canton Airport, Stark State College, Central Catholic High School, United Way, ArtsinStark, the Rotary and the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

A native of Pittsburgh, Saunier earned his bachelor’s degree from John Carroll University in Cleveland. He now lives in Plain Township and has three adult daughters—Kathleen, Colleen and Meghan. Kathleen and her husband, Jason, just welcomed Saunier’s first grandchild, 8-month-old Charlie.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass