President & CEO, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce
Dennis Saunier has been selling Stark County for more than 34 years. He came here in 1980 to open the Canton/Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. He then became director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival in 1994. Under his leadership, volunteers and staff challenged themselves with new ways of doing things, he said, such as creating new events, making the Jackson-Belden Food Fest part of the festivities, and boosting attendance and sponsorship dollars across the board.
He has been in his current position since 2001, and you would be hard-pressed to find a major Canton project in which Saunier wasn’t involved.
Saunier is quick to say that he did none of these projects alone, and during an interview, was full of praise for every person with whom he has worked, including his Chamber staff.
“I am surrounded with the great fortune of having, without a doubt, the best professional staff I could ever hope for,” he said.
With Saunier at the helm, the Chamber has focused on economic development, including creating the Mills Business Park through a collaboration with Canton Township, he said.
Other successes have included securing funding for the renovation of Fawcett Stadium, keeping the U.S. Route 30 extension project on track, improving the Chamber’s relationship with city council and administration, and creating the young professionals organization, ystark!.
The Chamber also has done significant work to transform downtown Canton.
“For years, nobody was paying attention to the downtown area, and we saw the downtown area, the city center, deteriorate, almost to the point of no return,” he said. “We believed for a region to be successful, it needs a strong center city.”
The Canton Development Partnership, which brought together the Chamber and other organizations, raised thousands of dollars for a downtown master plan and has turned the area into a hot spot of arts, dining and entertainment.
“Downtown is no longer an embarrassment, but rather a desired destination, and work will always continue in that arena,” he said.
This year, the Chamber celebrated its 100th anniversary, and finalized a five-year strategic plan for its future.
The plan focuses on the needs of the business community, he said.
“I believe we’re at a pivotal point in our community’s history with some wonderful opportunities at hand,” he said.