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Michelle Simoneau

NEW POSITION: Executive director, Tampa Bay Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Tampa

PREVIOUS POSITION: Owner, Premier Publishing & Marketing, St. Petersburg

Michelle Simoneau is the first non-Hispanic director of the 28-year-old Tampa Bay Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but she said she feels right at home. "It's a multifaceted position, which fits my personality wonderfully," he said.

Simoneau said one of her great-grandfathers was Cuban. And though she speaks little Spanish, she said, "I'm learning quickly."

Simoneau began coordinating projects for the chamber months ago through her company, Premier Publishing & Marketing. "I took them on as a client for my business," she said. "They brought me on board to do some special events and publications."

That part-time project blossomed into a full-time role as executive director of the chamber.

Simoneau said she will continue to coordinate and promote events for the 300-member chamber, as well as expand its outreach to the business community. Her own business, Premier Publishing, "is on hold," she said. "I won't be taking on any new clients."

Simoneau's role with the chamber encompasses a number of other tasks, as well. "I'm doing everything from building a Web site to hosting and coordinating a political candidates' reception" to working with international trade missions with Panama and Mexico, she said.

Simoneau, a native of Atlanta, spent much of her youth at her family's summer home in St. Augustine. She attended Flagler College and then the University of South Florida, studying advertising and marketing.

Her transfer to USF brought her to the Tampa Bay area, where she has been since. Simoneau worked with various bay area publications before starting her own business in 1988. More than a dozen years ago, Simoneau said, she began to specialize in special event and publications.

"I landed in a niche for chamber directories and visitors' guides," she said. These projects gave her a chance to be involved in all aspects of a publication, Simoneau said. The work blended well with her home life as she began a family.

"I used to go out, write the story, take the pictures, sell the ads, come up with the whole concept for the publication and come out here at night in my little office and rock my baby with my foot and design the (publication)," she said.

Her independent lifestyle, and now her role with the chamber, is ideal, she said. "I love people," she said. "I do. People are like a hobby for me.

"I am very project oriented," she said. "There's a buildup of excitement, then the final product and then you're done and you can move on to something else. You don't get bored. I also really enjoy the energy of people," she said.

"I love when people have a good time. That's the Irish in me."

Simoneau, 46, said she admires people who have persevered through adversity, people she calls "overcomers." "I love people who face serious challenges in life and overcome them and become better people because of them. I like that.

"The Latino people have definitely had that, coming in from Cuba and other Latin American cultures," she said.

Past projects under the banner of Premier Publishing & Marketing include coordinating the Discovery Native America celebration at Eckerd College from 2000 to 2003, and reviving the St. Petersburg downtown Santa Claus parade in 2001 in cooperation with the St. Petersburg Alliance.

Simoneau said she likes the variety her position with the chamber offers. "I get bored very easily," she said. "With this position, I'm able to do a lot of different things. This position is really wide open."

To focus on her new job, Simoneau said she recently resigned from two long-running volunteer positions, including as vice president of the Pinellas County Council of PTAs.

A single parent with five children, Simoneau lives in St. Petersburg. She said she likes to attend offshore powerboat races. She also sings and plays guitar, singing the blues as often as her schedule allows, sometimes at private parties, sometimes at special events. With a six-string Gibson guitar, Simoneau said she occasionally jams with musician friends and sometimes seeks out the blues roots in places like Memphis and New Orleans.