In a community in which women are having notable success as business owners, community leaders and public officials, Batavia’s Jamie Saam has excelled in all of those roles.
Saam operates not one but two enterprises. She now is in her second stint directing one of the community’s key business promotion and special event organizations, and she has served as an elected official to boot.
Best known for her role with Batavia MainStreet, a downtown business group, Saam has used her organizational skills to promote Batavia’s economic development and a culture community of engagement.
Saam is the executive director of MainStreet, a quasi-public organization that is designed to boost the fortunes of the downtown business district. This year, she also accepted an invitation to join Shaw Media Illinois’ Community Advisory Board, joining a group of leaders from around northern Illinois that is helping the company plan for how to continue its mission to serve its communities.
It was her leadership and communication skills that caught the eye of company leaders, Saam said.
“We talk about what we see in the market and the changing environment for news,” she said.
Saam and her husband, Douglas, operate Bulldog Plumbing, an enterprise they started nine years ago and have grown into a successful operation.
More recently, Saam established LocalConnect, a public relations firm designed to help small businesses with communications and image strategies.
Saam moved to Batavia from West Chicago with her family at age 10. She graduated from Batavia High School in 2001. After attending Waubonsee Community College, Saam attended the University of Illinois at Chicago through 2006, majoring in sociology and minoring in communications. Both fields of study have served Saam well in her burgeoning business career.
“I’m intrigued by relationships and culture,” she said.
She married Douglas in 2007, and the couple founded Bulldog Plumbing in 2010, with Jamie as owner and bookkeeper and Douglas as the chief plumber. They learned plenty of lessons along the way.
“You go into a small business and you think you can do it all,” Saam said. “But in reality, you need to hire out some of the work right away. You can’t do it all yourself.”
Today, Bulldog Plumbing has three full-time plumbers, including Douglas, two apprentices and a bookkeeping service. The business is located at 336 McKee St. in the former Batavia Dairy building.
Meanwhile, Saam became more immersed in the Batavia community as a volunteer for efforts such as the Art in Your Eye event.
In 2013, she sensed that the Batavia City Council needed greater diversity, and so the young woman ran for a council seat.
“I didn’t see a representative of me sitting on that council,” Saam said.
Saam won the election, and during her tenure on the council became the city’s representative on the MainStreet board.
Saam was hired as MainStreet’s executive director in 2015, and so she stepped down from the council to focus full time on the downtown organization.
The experience as an alderman was invaluable, Saam said.
“I’ve been part of the inner workings and planning, and was able to see what the city staff is looking at and how decisions are made,” Saam said.
Diving into an established MainStreet program, Saam championed the Artisan Collective, Second Fridays and Oktoberfest, while growing popular events including BatFest, the downtown Block Party and the Batavia Farmers Market.
By 2018, downtown Batavia was seeing a resurgence in business openings and a noticeable increase in pedestrian traffic. That same year, the Batavia Chamber of Commerce honored Saam as the recipient of the Donna Dallesasse Award, named for the Chamber’s first director. It also was the year that Saam decided, for two reasons, that it was time to step down as director.
“I wanted to take Bulldog Plumbing to the next level,” Saam said. “And I also feel that in any public position there should be rotation.”
“An organization like MainStreet needs to be changing and adapting,” Saam added.
Saam turned her attentions to Bulldog Plumbing and LocalConnect, growing both businesses.
She is not one of those businesspeople who gets up at 4:30 a.m. to get a jump on the workday. In fact, she places a lot of importance on getting eight hours of sleep every night.
So, what’s the secret to Saam’s success?
“I make a list at night for the next day,” Saam said. “Lists are the best. I like the sense of accomplishment when I check them off.”
Earlier this year, MainStreet found itself with a vacancy in the director’s post, and the board asked Saam to return on an interim basis. She led the organization through its slate of fall special events.
Now, MainStreet is looking to find a new, permanent director, with Saam serving on the committee conducting applicant interviews.
As for the news business, despite reader migration to digital platforms, Saam said she sees value in newsprint.
“I think that there is something to be said for tangible papers,” Saam said.
Saam views social media as an information minefield, with potential harm for small businesses that find themselves on the receiving end of someone’s rant on a comment thread.
“When you make those negative comments, you’re hurting a family and their investment, whether it’s true or not,” Saam said. “These are local people who have invested in your community.”
In addition, small businesses now are facing challenges in the changing media market when it comes to deciding where to spend their advertising dollars, Saam said.
“I want to see more people in downtown Batavia patronizing businesses,” Saam said, “so that even more businesses will come.”