Human Connection Powers Chamber President Deana Karem
Writer / Jessica Able
Deana Epperly Karem grew up watching her grandmother operate a successful hair salon, and learned at an early age the importance of self-discipline and the drive to succeed.
That same entrepreneurial spirit is what drives Karem today. She is the president and CEO of the Jeffersontown Chamber of Commerce, a role she’s had since June of 2020.
“My passion comes from watching my grandmother build her business,” Karem says. “I think about her every day. She was a change-maker in her community.”
The same can be said for Karem today. She came to the Jeffersontown Chamber with nearly 30 years of experience in economic and community development. She previously headed up the regional economic and workforce development for Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI) as the senior vice president for regional economic growth.
At GLI she was in charge of attracting companies and talent to the greater Louisville area. The team she led was responsible for building partnerships for businesses and consumers.
Partnerships and community building are significant parts of what Karem does.
“I’ve learned over the years that people want to do business with people they know,” she says. “They want to do business with local companies and people more often than not.”
Karem knows a thing or two about Jeffersontown and its people. She’s a Jeffersontown native and prides herself on knowing the community through and through.
“I’ve spent my entire career in community and economic development roles throughout different agencies, so my passion really is working with businesses to help them grow, to help them find new customers, to help them find a place in the regional community,” she says. “What inspires me is to connect people with one another and to connect them with opportunities.”
Karem came on board at the Jeffersontown Chamber in June of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The success of this job is based on businesses being able to meet, being able to do business, so it’s been a huge challenge,” she says with a laugh. “One of COVID’s biggest challenges was trying to help people feel connected to one another despite not physically being present.”
Despite starting an economic development job in the midst of a trying economic climate, Karem has thrived, doing what she does best.
For starters, she and her team at the chamber created numerous virtual offerings for business leaders and community members.
“The bright spot has been that people have responded really well to the virtual programming we’ve put together as a chamber,” she says. “We’ve found our own ways to do different programming, such as speed networking.”
The response, she says, was very good. “It was well attended and successful,” she says. “We were really proud of the program.”
A major effort by the chamber in the last several months has been the COVID recovery series. The chamber leaders held a series of workshops where they talked with business leaders, and helped them strategize on how to support their employees coming out of the COVID crisis mode of the last two years.
The chamber staff looked at strategy planning, including how to focus on the emotional health of employees and what life might look like past COVID, Karem says.
“Business is going to change,” she says. “Nothing is going back to how it used to be. As hard as it’s been going through it, if we can see this as an opportunity, it could be a huge step forward.”
Despite the heartache, sadness and fear, some positive change came about during the last two years, Karem says.
“I know there was a lot of heartache in people all over J-town, Louisville, the state and beyond,” she says. “If we don’t find a way for the experience to make us better, to be better as a result, I think it’s a real missed opportunity.”
The Jeffersontown Chamber is looking to the future with the release of a three-year strategic plan known as FocUS 2025. Karem says at the heart of the new plan is the desire to serve the businesses and community of Jeffersontown.
“It’s the result of a huge survey we did with members,” she says. “It’s really about providing value to the members.”
The chamber plans to provide value in a few ways including marketing and networking, professional development, and community engagement.
There are about 1,100 business members of the Jeffersontown Chamber.
Karem’s passion for the community is evident and her past experience, she says, allows her to bring a different perspective than a lot of other chamber leaders.
“Everything I do at the chamber, I look through an economic development lens,” she says. “Because of my past experience, I know what businesses are looking for and what their challenges are.”
This foresight and intuition can be linked back to watching her grandmother, Stella Clark. She ran a successful beauty salon in the 1970s called Stella’s Coiffures, located in Hikes Point.
“She loved people and loved her business,” Karem says. “That was contagious for me, always. She knew her customers. She knew things about them. She was helping them improve their lives through cosmetology.”
The lessons she learned from her grandmother have lasted a lifetime.
“I remember her building her business and struggling sometimes, and staying up with the trends,” she says. “She put herself in the spirit of her community. She was a change maker in her own right in her industry.”
Karem and her husband Steve live in Jeffersontown. Steve owns a home remodeling business. They have two sons, Bennett, 15, and Sam, 13.