New Chamber official aims to create jobs in all areas

Susan Davenport is the new vice president of economic development at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Aundre Larrow/Sun correspondent
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.

Susan Davenport was not looking to leave the Austin (Texas) Chamber of Commerce when Tim Giuliani called to recruit her to his management team. But she was intrigued by his vision for economic development as president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. And the more she looked into what Gainesville had to offer, the more it piqued her interest.


Susan Davenport

Occupation: Vice president of economic development, Gainesville Chamber of Commerce/Council for Economic Outreach.
Personal: Single, no children.
Pet: “Dog named Ferguson, a white Westie who lives with my aunt and uncle in Texas. Ferguson considers himself in charge of everything.”
Dream partner for lunch: “My father. He died two weeks before I graduated with my first degree but gave me great advice to use as I moved through my life. I would give anything for his perspective now. He was my best friend and greatest confidant.”
Last book read: Rebecca Ryan's “ReGeneration.”
On her TV: CNN.
Playing in her car: Contemporary country.
Favorite listening: “Live music of all genres/styles. I love to hear live music!”
Hobbies: Golf, running and reading.
Education: Bachelor of science in nursing and master of public affairs.

What she found was a business community committed to capitalizing on existing strengths to become a hub for innovative companies, a Chamber with the structure to execute the business community's ideas, and a state focused on job creation.

“Then there's an underlying energy in a community that you can feel,” Davenport said. “It's a bit of an intangible in ways. And I felt that here.”

Davenport started eight weeks ago as vice president of economic development at the Gainesville Chamber and Council for Economic Outreach after serving several roles at the Austin Chamber, lastly as the senior vice president of global technology strategies.

“I had been there 12 years and loved growing programs,” she said.

In her various roles over the years, Davenport worked on business recruitment, started a business retention and expansion program, coordinated a regional tech startup program for the state and started a program for tech executives to support entrepreneurs.

Her role in economic development at the Gainesville Chamber is to recruit new businesses, help retain and expand existing businesses, and help entrepreneurs start new companies.

While the innovation economy has received a lot of attention, Davenport said the Chamber is focused on creating jobs “from the GED to the Ph.D.”

“We want a whole panorama of jobs and skill sets that provide opportunities broadly across this community,” she said. “I'm being very mindful to look through industry sectors and understand where those opportunities can be gleaned and then understand how we're going to go after them.”

Davenport was born in Texas, grew up in Tupelo, Miss., and returned to Texas to study nursing. After working as a registered nurse for five years, she returned to school to pursue her interest in politics, earning a master's degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

At first, she intended to go into health care policy, but after taking a business class, she became hooked on economics.

Her background in medicine and economics led to an opportunity with the Austin Chamber when they were looking for someone to recruit bioscience companies.

“They were like, ‘This is wonderful. You can talk to pharmaceutical companies,' ” she said.

Davenport said Austin became a much different place during her time there, having grown to 4,400 technology companies employing 109,000 people.

“If anybody asked me what was responsible for that it was that well-orchestrated, organized and funded strategy that the business community put forward and the leadership that they exuded,” she said. “We could do that here easily with the assets that this community has.”

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