Daytonian of the Week is dedicated to ‘building an inclusive and thriving community’

Stephanie Keinath has been a long-time advocate for Dayton.

She’s been with the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce for 14 years and in October was named vice president of strategic initiatives for the organization.

Keinath said she’s been inspired by the “grit and determination” of local business owners during the pandemic and is focused on their success in 2021.

Our Daytonian of the Week tells us about herself and what she sees ahead for Dayton’s business community.

Tell us about your background. What has led you to this point in your career?

I was born in California and moved to the Midwest when I was very young. After finishing my bachelor’s degree in international relations at Wright State University, I, like a lot of young people, had no idea how to kick-start my career.

I was substitute teaching in an elementary school and studying for the Foreign Service exam when I found out about public policy job for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. Full disclosure, I had no idea what a chamber of commerce did before I interviewed for the job.

Flash forward 14 years later, and I’m pretty amazed at how my work at the chamber has allowed me to explore so many things that I care about, grow personally and professionally and become rooted in this community in ways I couldn’t imagine when I was a 22-year-old new graduate.

You were recently promoted to vice president of strategic initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. What will you do in this new role?

This role represents a new direction for the chamber and was really created to meet the changing needs of our members and the business community.

Our new CEO, Chris Kershner, has been a mentor and champion for me since I started at the Chamber 14 years ago. When we sat down earlier this summer to discuss this role, it was with the idea to build on some of areas that I already focus on — workforce and talent development, business advocacy, but also to expand the scope of what our organization can do in the community to support businesses.

Whether it’s helping businesses meaningfully engage in work around racism and equity, or creating more pathways for women into executive leadership roles, connecting our employers to our immigrant and refugee workforce or working with our middle-school students to show them what careers in Dayton are available to them — I view my role as focused on building an inclusive and thriving community.

What do you see ahead for the Dayton business community in 2021?

The last several years for the Dayton business community have been tough. There is no way to sugarcoat that.

Like many towns, so much of our character, and what makes Dayton “Dayton” are the businesses that have chosen to locate here, to grow and expand and offer something unique to our daily lives.

We’re fortunate to have so many locally grown entrepreneurs, people who are bravely navigating these times, and honestly, hanging on by a thread. I’m so inspired by their grit and determination, and for me 2021 will be focused on ensuring that they can continue to call Dayton home.

2021 will require all of us to rally around those organizations that we want to exist in the future and to support them with our advocacy, our patronage, our volunteer hours and our resources.

What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge?

The pandemic has been the ultimate test for leaders all over the world in how to navigate a long-term crisis. On a small scale, as a leader in my organization, navigating the pandemic has been painful and frustrating, but also enormously instructive.

I’ve learned so much over the last year about how I want to communicate differently, how we can connect with the community and provide services differently and perhaps most importantly, how critical it is to surround yourself with a support system.

Even at my most exhausted and frustrated moments over the last several months, when dealing with so much that is beyond my power to influence, I’ve never felt like I’ve been alone. I’ve had an immense network of support, both personal and professional, that has really kept me steady.

We’ve all had a chance to reflect during the pandemic. What have you found to be positive during this time?

I’m naturally a pretty “glass-half-full” kind of gal, but the ultimate lesson of the pandemic for me is to stay present to the moment.

I’ve lived a lot of my life being very wary of change. When everything changed seemingly overnight in March, it was a hard lesson to realize that number one, that I had little or no control, and number two, that we’re all such fragile humans on this earth. Both things were true pre-pandemic, but the veil of ignorance was truly ripped off for me, and I’m grateful.

It has meant that I can show up differently, with more compassion for myself and others, and with a greater appreciation for what one of my favorite writers, Ross Gay, calls the “daily delights.” Because truly, there are a million small and large things to delight in each day, even in the midst of everything.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

So, I have this secret wish to travel around the country and take pictures of all the hilarious ways that people try to haul stuff on the highway. You know, when you pass someone driving a Ford Ranger that has WAY too much stuff crammed into the bed, and there may be a bungee cord or two holding everything together, but maybe not?

I want to take pictures of those guys, and then create a book entitled, This Is Not Going to End Well. I feel a little guilty because it sounds like I’m rooting for these spectacular accidents, but really, I just admire the hopefulness it must take to think that so much can fit in such a small space.

What would your perfect Dayton date be?

Well it would include my husband Marc, and the omakase sushi menu at Ozu 852 in Englewood, with enough sushi and sashimi to feed a small army. And then a hike at Aullwood, because Marie Aull’s garden is my very favorite place in Dayton. Then beers at Branch and Bone, and a stop to see whatever show is being featured at The Contemporary. The night would end with a movie at the Dixie Drive-In, and we would eat dessert that we picked up earlier in the day from St. Anne the Tart or Boosalis Bakery.

What inspires you about the Dayton area?

I’ve been so inspired by the incredible female leaders that I’ve met across our region. I’ve been fortunate to work with some, to learn from some, and to call many my friends.

There are two groups in particular that I want to call out, one that we created at the chamber three years ago called EMPOWER, a cohort program designed to advance more women in executive leadership across our community, and Women Writing for (a) Change-Central Ohio, which has been a critical component of my personal development over the last five years.

Both programs have allowed me to encounter the most incredible women who’ve made a real difference in my life, and who are transforming our community.

About the Author