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Ilona Lohrey officially takes the helm at GSBA

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Ilona Lohrey — Photo courtesy of GSBA
Ilona Lohrey — Photo courtesy of GSBA

On September 12, the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) released a statement announcing Ilona Lohrey as its new president and CEO.

Lohrey's journey with the GSBA began in 2002, when she volunteered as an interviewer for the association's Scholarship and Education Fund. Having moved back and forth between the US and Germany, where she was born and raised, she took a permanent position with the GSBA when she settled in the Seattle area in 2015.

In a recent interview with the SGN, Lohrey recalled her decision to join the organization: "I wanted to do something that was good for my heart, for my soul, and that's really what brought me to joining the GSBA. It combines my passions for small business and our [Queer] community."

Her role as president and CEO marks a new beginning not only for the organization but for the greater Seattle community as a whole.

What is the GSBA?
Founded in 1981, the GSBA began as a Seattle-based community network for Queer-owned businesses and has since evolved to be Washington state's leading LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce.

According to its most recent public impact report from 2020, the association serves over 1,400 enterprises across 16 counties and has awarded over $4.5 million to the community through its Scholarship and Education Fund — established in 1991, it's now the oldest LGBTQ+ scholarship fund in the US.

Since its inception, the GSBA has focused on community-building and mutual support, offering small LGBTQ+-owned businesses educational and networking opportunities across the state.

One resource that Lohrey is particularly passionate about is the GSBA Business Academy, which offers courses, certifications, and even one-to-one consulting to young professionals, freelancers, and business owners free of charge. The Academy focuses on serving companies that are LGBTQ+-, BIPOC-, or women-owned.

The GSBA team, like everyone else, has had to find ways to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic while also aiding members who looked to it for support. While the last two years have presented several challenges, Lohrey explained that they've also represented a period of growth for the organization.

"We had to ask ourselves, 'Who do we want to be? What is the core essence of this organization?'" she recalled. She also explained that the lockdown offered the team some much-needed time to better develop the Business Academy, which was created in 2020 and still in its early stages.

The future of the GSBA
With the operations that are currently in place, as well as her previous experiences and the support of the Seattle community, Lohrey imagines a bright future for the GSBA.

With a solid foundation built for supporting newer businesses, she hopes to shift focus and develop a roundtable to aid enterprises that are more established and/or generate higher annual revenues. As businesses expand their operations, new questions arise and different types of support are needed; these are the nuances that Lohrey hopes to address. In addition, she also pictures the roundtable as functioning as a community-building event, adding, "Being a business owner can be very lonely sometimes, so it will provide a platform for businesses to get together and network."

Lohrey also aims to expand and deepen the existing Leadership Academy (which is part of the broader Business Academy) to include scholarship applicants who might not have been awarded any funding. In upholding the GSBA's mission of accessibility and community support, she's eager to find alternate ways to connect people with the aid and networks they need to succeed. "We don't have enough scholarships to give to every applicant, but we also don't want them to fall through the cracks," she said.

Other plans include developing internship opportunities for applicants, as well as fostering deeper connections with trades for an alternative to traditional postsecondary education. "Not everybody may want to go to a four-year college, and there are a lot of great opportunities in the trades world," Lohrey explained. "I really just want to be a hub for anyone who's in the middle of making career choices or making choices about whether or not they want to be in higher education."

On a more personal note, Lohrey discussed her intentions for leading and working collaboratively with the rest of the GSBA team to make sure they can best serve the entire community. She has created a leadership council and meets with them every other week to review upcoming decisions and events. "I don't know my own blind spots," she said. "I want to be really particular about hearing different perspectives on important decisions that I'm making for the organization."

With several years of experience under her belt and a humble, collaborative approach to leadership, it seems that Lohrey will make an effective voice for the community.

On November 19, 2022, at 5 p.m. at the Westin Hotel (1900 Fifth Ave.), the GSBA will host its annual EQUALUX fundraiser, the largest LGBTQ+ event in the Pacific Northwest. All proceeds will benefit the association's Scholarship and Education Fund. Visit https://thegsba.org/ for more information about EQUALUX, as well other GSBA events and resources.