Mary Jane Stenberg, Surrey Board of Trade

As the newly appointed president of the Surrey Board of Trade, Mary Jane Stenberg is focused on investing in education.

Mary Jane Stenberg, Surrey Board of Trade | BCBusiness

As the newly appointed president of the Surrey Board of Trade, Mary Jane Stenberg is focused on investing in education.

A lot of educators talk about bringing more entrepreneurial thinking into B.C.’s colleges and universities, but few mean it quite as literally as Mary Jane Stenberg. While working in management for Coast Mental Health, she found herself consistently short of qualified job applicants when she was hiring, so she decided to start her own private post-secondary institution, Stenberg College. She spotted demand and set out to meet it. But it’s not all business; both in her day job as executive director of external relations for Kwantlen Polytechnic University and in her capacity as the newly appointed president of the Surrey Board of Trade, championing investment in education is her personal mission.

How did you get started in your career?

When I left university there were absolutely no jobs available . . . and I ended up doing a variety of strange things that have meant a lot to me in terms of learning as I grew older. One was guiding tours all across North America with groups of people in buses and another was teaching ballroom dancing for Arthur Murray. I actually had a car accident after working for Coast Mental Health for three years and I couldn’t drive long distances anymore. I was in Langley, I was commuting every day into 12th and Main to the Coast Mental Health office, so I went to a friend of mine who was managing the adult education program for the Langley school district and I asked, ‘Would you have any interest if I were to develop a mental health worker program?’ At that time there was no one who was doing specific training for people to be mental health workers, particularly for working with people who were severely mentally ill living in the Downtown Eastside area.

How does this career path lead to what you’re doing now for the Surrey Board of Trade?

What I’m really passionate about, and the reason I got involved with the Surrey Board of Trade to begin with, is that economic development and education are so linked. Someone once told me there are four keys to economic development in a community: education, transportation, transportation and education. If we want to move forward with economic development, what we have to do is link our education and our universities to business and to government and work collaboratively in order to bring the research, the innovation, the bright young minds to solve the problems the community has. That’s why I’m as passionate about the Surrey Board of Trade as I am about education – they’re intertwined.

What other connections can you make between your background in education and mental health and your role with the Surrey Board of Trade?

I think that Dianne Watts is doing a really good job of planning to help people who may be displaced by this Central City development that’s going to be happening. But I also see that, as business people and as educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that the social agenda is not forgotten. We have started a service at the Board of Trade where there’s a hotline where businesses can call in if there are homeless people who are in front of their businesses or who are causing issues in their neighbourhood, and instead of going and rousting them out and saying go away, [the service will] call one of our member agencies that serve homeless people and they go out and intervene and try and get them services and get them help and get them housing.

You say it’s all about transportation and education. Are there any initiatives on the transportation front that you’re excited about?

One of the big wins that we lobbied for for many years was the expansion of the Port Mann Bridge. I have to tell you, if you’ve ever tried to get from Abbotsford to Surrey, you get caught in the Port Mann Bridge traffic and you can’t actually get to Surrey without taking 20 minutes to go bumper-to-bumper through Langley since it’s such a bottleneck on the bridge. The other thing we were happy about is that there’s some resolution to the transit funding apparently coming down the pipe. Surrey has been really under-served by TransLink for many, many years and we’re looking forward to getting the Evergreen Line built.

What other goals do you have for your tenure at the Board of Trade?

The Surrey Board of Trade, before I became president, had the goal of really trying to work with the provincial government to raise the number of post-secondary seats in the Surrey area. We have half the seats per capita in the south Fraser region as the rest of British Columbia, and yet it’s the most growing area. So we’re continuing on that to lobby for proper education numbers here. But my big goal is to involve more young entrepreneurs in the Surrey Board of Trade and link with students who are coming out of UBC, Simon Fraser and Kwantlen who are innovators, who have great ideas for businesses and trying to link them up with the members.

What do you say when you meet business people who are thinking about investing in Surrey?

I say we have industrial land available, we have a city government that is very interested in helping to make things easy for people to do business and we have a growing labour pool for you to access. The other part of it is it’s a beautiful place to live and there are tons of recreational and other opportunities within an hour’s drive away, so I can’t think of any better place to establish a business than in Surrey.

Do you live in Surrey?

I live in Langley. When I had Stenberg College, my business was in Surrey and I worked there.

Would you live in Surrey?