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Employee Spotlight: Stacey Nance, Director of Airport Concessions

A recent addition to TPA, this small-town native has faced big challenges, from managing large retail operations to beating a cancer diagnosis.

Growing up in the small town of Winchester, Indiana, Stacey Nance never dreamed she'd fight for her life against cancer, or one day move to Florida and work at an airport. 

With a degree in marketing and business management from Ball State University, her first job out of college was working at a bank in Muncie, about 20 miles from Winchester. She started off performing market research, but worked her way up to become the director of marketing, overseeing multiple branches throughout Indiana for 10 years.

In the late 1990s, real estate investment trust Simon Property Group (SPG), which owned and planned to expand the Muncie Mall at the time, asked Stacey if she would join their team.

She wasn't looking for a change, but she was intrigued by the offer and agreed to become the mall’s marketing director. Her career took off, and she was eventually promoted to general manager of the Muncie Mall.

The mall was a major attraction in the town and its surrounding counties at the time, and Stacey soon earned the nickname "Mayor of Muncie.”While other  opportunities with SPG and elsewhere often came her way, Stacey wanted to maintain the roots she’d put down. As a single mom, she wanted to keep her son, Jordan, in the same school district and have the support of her parents and nearby family members.Screensho 2

But her priorities soon changed.

On Dec. 7, 2000, Stacey wasn't feeling well. With the Christmas shopping period in full swing, December was one of Stacey’s busiest times of the year. She’d had a benign tumor removed a year prior, and was still concerned about her health. She called her doctor and went in for a checkup the same day.

Stacey vividly remembers sitting alone in the doctor’s office after a biopsy, watching the snow fall outside the window. 

When her doctor returned, he sat down next to her on the table and took her by the hand.

“Stacey, I’m sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer,” he said.

“The first thing I said to my doctor was, ‘Am I going to die?’” Stacey remembers. “And he said, ‘We're going to do everything we can to make sure you don't.'"

Stacey was the first person in her family to have cancer. She began having hard conversations with her loved ones about her diagnosis, including one that evening with her 11-year-old son.

The first question he asked: “Mom, are you going to die?”

Stacey was now in a fight not just for her life, but for her son, too.

“He’s really what kept me going,” Stacey recalled. “I knew I had to watch my son graduate from college and high school and see him get married.”

The day after receiving her diagnosis, she was back at work. Her chemotherapy treatments began a week later.

Stacey was determined to keep her full-time job while being treated for cancer. She scheduled her chemotherapy sessions for Fridays so she could try to recover over the weekend and be as ready as possible for work on Monday.

Stacey remembered that by Christmas Day, she was lying on the couch, losing her hair and feeling her body ache, wondering if she would survive until the next Christmas.

During her battle, the hospital where Stacey was receiving treatment was developing a new cancer center. They asked Stacey, the honorary Mayor of Muncie, to help raise funds and awareness by becoming the spokesperson for the new center, helping raise funds and awareness.

"My thought was, 'If I can save one person, this cancer diagnosis is not for nothing,’" Stacey said.

The local newspaper and radio stations began to share her incredible journey, following her everywhere, from basketball games to chemotherapy appointments. Stacey wanted to show that life goes on, even when someone is fighting cancer.

In her quest to raise awareness, Stacey eventually joined the board of directors for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, ran in Relay for Life fundraising events and became involved in the Susan G. Komen organization for breast cancer awareness.

About two years after her initial diagnosis, following rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries, she won her fight. Her doctors gave her the all-clear and prescribed a lifetime of having to take preventative drugs.

"It took me years to grow back my hair," Stacey said. "It was really tough – I was in my early 30s and that journey itself wasn’t easy.”

After her son graduated and went off to college, Stacey was ready to focus her attention on other things, including her romantic life. Her friend Carol said she knew a man who lived in Cincinnati, and thought the two of them may be a good match.

Carol was right. Screenshot 2024-03-14 at 3.06.39 PM

Stacey and Mark Huser began exchanging emails for a month before graduating to phone calls for another month. Finally, they decided to meet.

Stacey took the two-hour drive south for their first date, a Cincinnati Reds Opening Day baseball game.

“I don’t remember who the opposing team was that day,” Stacey said. “I was too focused on the present company.” 

After hitting it off,  the couple wondered how they'd make a long-distance relationship work. They resolved to date exclusively and see each other every weekend, never letting more than one weekend pass without a visit.

They stuck to it. For more than a year and a half, Stacey became very familiar with the roads between Muncie and Cincinnati. 

Finally, they met each other’s families, to resounding approval, so Mark soon after moved to Muncie to be with Stacey. They settled into their new lives together, but wouldn’t stay there for long. 

SPG asked Stacey if she was interested in being the general manager of a new outlet mall the company was opening in the Tampa Bay area –  the Tampa Premium Outlets in the Lutz/Wesley Chapel area.

Stacey and Mark had a good feeling about Tampa Bay after flying here for a scouting visit and decided to make the leap to Florida in 2015. Screenshot 2024-03-15 at 9.44.33 AM

After overseeing that property from inception to completion, she was ready for a new challenge. Right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, Stacey was approached by Tampa’s commercial real estate development firm Strategic Property Partners about joining their retail division.

Stacey and Mark mulled it over and after 23 years working for SPG, she decided to make the switch. 

She became the general manager of Sparkman Wharf, the downtown Tampa retail and dining district, before later supervising food and beverage development in the now-popular Water Street District. Both were high-profile projects for the city of Tampa, and for Stacey, who was eventually contacted by a recruiting company asking whether she’d consider becoming Tampa International Airport’s Director of Airport Concessions. 

Stacey powered through a rigorous interview process and landed the job in July of 2023, joining a team that oversees TPA's retail and beverage partners and more.

"We touch a lot of lives at this airport," Stacey said. “It's not just about a hamburger – it's about creating a wonderful guest experience for our travelers to enjoy the many amenities that make TPA special.”

Echoing TPA CEO Joe Lopano’s description of TPA, Stacey said it’s her goal to make these facilities “Tampa’s living room." She wants her team to provide travelers with the finest selection of local flavors and international brands, striving to ensure each traveler has a wonderful experience from the moment they park in the garage until they board the plane.

"My team has heard every day that I've been here, 'How can we do good today?' That's our motto,” said Stacey.

After originally settling in Lutz, Stacey and Mark decided to downsize and move to the beach. They now own a condo on Boca Ciega Bay, where they are always on the sand and love riding bikes and taking in sunsets together.

Family and friends often visit from Indiana to enjoy the views and sunshine, too.

And hundred of miles from Muncie, years after her battle with cancer, people still reach out to her, asking for advice and counsel when they’re facing a similar battle. Stacey believes helping them has become her personal calling.

“I got cancer, I feel, to help and support others," she said.