Questions & Answers with community faces
Joanne Bartley (49) grew up in the Detroit suburbs, graduating from Clawson High School in 1989. She immediately went to work for Campbell & Company—now called Campbell Marketing & Communications, the Dearborn-based marketing firm for Ford Motor Company—performing multiple jobs, working her way up through courier, receptionist, assistant, help desk, and account executive. Her last role at Campbell was working on the Special Vehicle Team Owners Association (SVTOA); that contract was picked up in 2001 by Affinity Development Group in San Diego, but Bartley was able to work remotely from her home in southern Michigan.
Bartley moved to Frankfort in 2005 to be with her husband, Danny, an avid hunter and fisherman who had moved to Northern Michigan for the wildlife in 1996. The couple grew up in the same town, Clawson, and even went to the same high school, though four years apart. They dated for a short time in 1992 and were reunited in 2003. They both have children from previous marriages: Danny has a son, Payton (22); Joanne has two sons, Conner (19) and Chase (17); together, the couple’s daughter, Presley (15), was born in 2005.
After Presley’s birth, Joanne finished with Affinity Development Group in 2006. She has served as the full-time executive director of the Frankfort-Elberta Area Chamber of Commerce since 2007. She has also been a part-time fitness center technician at Betsie Hosick Health and Fitness Center for the past six years.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with Bartley at the Chamber office in downtown Frankfort.
The Betsie Current: When did you first get into marketing? What was the appeal?
Joanne Bartley: Well, to be honest, I got a job right out of high school because I needed a job! It just happened to be a marketing company. I gained all of my knowledge and experience from this company and co-workers. I am truly grateful. I’m the perfect example of not needing a college education.
Current: You went from essentially working for a multinational company—Ford—to working for a very small operation here in Northern Michigan. What drew you to the Chamber of Commerce job?
Bartley: The event-planning side of things. It’s what I do; I’m a planner and organizer. I have more than 25 years experience, and the job description suited me. This brings me to a funny story—small-town stuff. The reason that I found out about the job is from my husband, Danny. At the time, he was the animal control officer for the county. He was writing a ticket to Carey Corey [owner of Corey’s Big Dog Towing], and they were chatting about how I was looking for a job, and she told him about it. True story! I thank her often for the referral.
Current: To clarify for our readers, there are two Chambers of Commerce here; Benzie County and Frankfort-Elberta. These are separate offices that do different things and have different—but some overlapping—members. Do you guys work together sometimes? What other organizations are you working with, besides the Chamber members themselves?
Bartley: We [Frankfort-Elberta Chamber] focus on events and bringing people here to patronize our businesses. Yes, we work together on promoting the area with the Benzie Chamber. We also work very closely now with Traverse City Tourism, as they took over the Benzie County Convention and Visitors Bureau earlier this year.
Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you? Does it depend on the season?
Bartley: Sort of. People always say in the winter, “You must be slow this time of year.” During the “busy” season, I am planning the events and prepping for them and handling member requests and helping customers—email, phone, and in-person. In the winter, I am pre-planning and preparing for the registration of all events and processing membership requests. The phone calls and visitors are limited in the winter, so technically I am just as busy, but I can actually get work done.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next?
Bartley: When I started, there were 135 chamber members. We now have almost 200. So many new businesses, changed businesses; the town has really grown. Increase in tourists—I know, how is that possible right?—events that didn’t exist then that are now in full swing. Well not this year. Events like Restaurant Week (June, formerly part of “Taste of Benzie”), Frankfort 48, Family Beach Parties, Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Grow Benzie events (summer); Frankfort Beer Week, Fall Festival, and Film Festival (October); Shiver by the River (February; we need to bring this back, in some fashion), just to name a few. I’m pretty sure [that non-residents] have found our hidden gem! I would like to see some new and different events happen. We already have a lot of what others do have with our scenery, beaches, town, etc. I’d like to do something that no one else has. Something unique and fresh. For instance, I have been wanting to host a formal dinner down the middle of Main Street with white linens and all. What do you think of that? If the wind wasn’t so horrifying most days. We will see….
Current: Speaking of events, on Tuesday, June 2, your office announced that the majority of summer events in the Frankfort-Elberta area will be canceled for 2020. What are the challenges going forward? Are there any positives? What is the main struggle in this changing climate? What is the biggest need right now? How many different scenarios do you have planned, as regulations roll out from the governor’s office?
Bartley: I’m sure the public doesn’t think there are positives to cancelling these traditional events and activities, but we are only trying to protect and keep everyone safe and healthy. No one likes change—including me! The theme of the biggest need for the last couple of years is staff; many of our local businesses are in dire need of people to work. We will wait to hear from the governor’s office before we decide on fall events.
Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?
Bartley: I love to go on walks. Swimming, fishing, kayaking, working out, and gardening. For well over 12 years, I’ve been involved in school functions, because I have lots of kids. Everything from concessions to taco dinners, snacks, etc. I have been on the Panther Parents board for about five years. Most people do not know this, but I was the Frankfort Junior High track coach last year—I was supposed to be again this year, but obviously didn’t get to. I plan to continue with that in the future.
Current: How have you seen Benzie County/Northern Michigan change since you first moved here? What are your hopes for the area in the future?
Bartley: I’ve seen a lot of growth. I remember a time with a lot of empty storefronts [on Frankfort’s Main Street]; now, I think there might be only one. Hopes for the future: more unique shops, more places to live for the local workforce, and more resort-type places to vacation.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Bartley: The challenge for me as a mama and multiple-job worker is not enough time to enjoy the things tourists get to. I often am envious when they come in and are free to enjoy all that we have to offer. The most rewarding part is helping people to find their way and sharing the knowledge of the area and attractions that they may not know about. The other rewarding part is seeing people so happy at events—seriously huge smiles. That makes me happy.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area? What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?
Bartley: We need to have places for them to live. Apartments or condos for the workforce; maybe more hotels/resorts. I sit and look at the Elberta bluff all day from my office window and think, “Someone should build a large resort there.” A teen dance club, more on-the-water restaurants—everyone wants to be “on the water.”
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?
Bartley: I love all of the restaurants, although I don’t eat out very often. I’m spoiled; I have my own private beach with sand on Herring Creek, so I rarely go anywhere else for relaxing on a beach. We do kayak on the creek often, also. I am discovering new hiking spots this year—Green Point, of course, and Upper Herring Preserve. We live within a mile of each, so it is convenient and just beautiful and exercise!
Current: What does your perfect summer day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Bartley: Full sun and 75 degrees. I live on Herring Creek and have a private beach, so that’s where I would spend the perfect summer day. After walking, working out, and checking on my flower gardens. And/or kayaking on “my creek.”
Want to learn more about joining the Frankfort-Elberta Chamber or about what to expect in terms of events this summer? See the Community Calendar section on Page 4 of this newspaper and reach out to Joanne Bartley at FCOFC@Frankfort-Elberta.com via email or call 231-352-7251. Check out Frankfort-Elberta.com for more information.
Featured photo: Joanne Bartley has served as the full-time executive director of the Frankfort-Elberta Area Chamber of Commerce since 2007; this is the first summer during her 13-year tenure in which most events have been canceled, due to COVID-19 health and safety precautions. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.