By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN The Delano Area Chamber of Commerce is at the heart of Delano’s thriving economic sector supporting, promoting, and connecting more than 130 local businesses.
“It’s really changed a lot in the past four years,” President Amy Stewart said. “I think when things really stepped up was when the road construction was imminent.”
People wanted to ensure that businesses in Delano would continue to grow, despite closed roads, she said.
“The Taste of Delano sprung out of it,” she said. “The purpose is to make people aware of local restaurants and businesses.”
The second annual Taste of Delano will be Wednesday, Aug. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Delano City Park. Entertainment will be provided by Chopper “the World’s Nuttiest DJ.” Other attractions include the KRWC road show, a children’s moon walk, face painting, balloon animals, wristbands, and pop.
In addition to Taste of Delano, the Chamber of Commerce business committee organizes other promotional events throughout the year, such as the Heritage Festival in September, a Christmas tree lighting event in November, and a business expo in the spring.
An increasing number of businesses are experiencing the benefits of becoming a chamber member, Executive Director Jean Kopp said. In the past year, membership rose from about 110 to more than 130.
The majority of the businesses joined in the last six months of 2008, “which was surprising, considering the economy,” Kopp said.
“What people have told me is that they felt it was a good use of their advertising dollars,” she said.
Yearly membership dues range from $200 to $600, and are based on the number of people a company employs.
“Most of our businesses are within the $200 to $300 range,” Kopp said. The membership fee is pro-rated, she added, so businesses don’t pay the full amount if they join later in the year.
For Stewart, joining the chamber was “one of the best business decisions” she’s ever made, she said.
She became a member within months of moving to Delano.
“I felt it was an important thing to do,” she said. Now, in part through networking resources at the chamber, Stewart has started a business of her own.
“The Delano community was very welcoming,” she said.
The board of directors are all volunteers, but Stewart said it’s “time well spent.”
“The chamber has done so much for me and for our community,” she added.
One of her goals as president of the chamber is to encourage people to shop locally.
“When people buy locally, there is a return on the investment,” Stewart said. Even if something costs slightly more in town, Stewart said it is worth the money, because shopping locally helps the community.
“Many people shop to the east, and they don’t know what’s in their backyards,” she said.
Stewart said her mission is to create more awareness of these businesses, and “find ways for them to be highlighted.”
“We’re looking to increase the benefits you get,” she said. Currently, Delano Area Chamber of Commerce members receive a free booth at the Taste of Delano event and get a discounted spring business expo fee.
Chamber members also enjoy the benefit of getting referrals.
“Today, somebody called me and asked what restaurants are good in Delano,” Kopp said. “I gave them three names of restaurants, all chamber members.”
Recently, the chamber began focusing more on economic development, Stewart said. There will be a committee that works with the city to bring new businesses to Delano, as well as retain existing businesses.
“We’ll also be determining what types of businesses are right for Delano,” she said.
For any business that would like to get involved in the chamber, there are many opportunities.
Committees have various degrees of time commitment. Some are short-term, Stewart said, such as the “operation thank-you” initiative, which involves making stops at chamber member businesses to thank them and ask for feedback.
“There’s really something for everybody,” she said.
Another opportunity for involvement is during the Harvest Festival, when many businesses sponsor parade floats for local sports teams. The event also includes a chili cookout, medallion hunt, and pie-eating contest.
Being an advocate for city businesses has been very rewarding, Stewart said.
“I could go on all day about the chamber,” Stewart said. “I get pretty excited about it.”
The chamber is always looking for new ideas, Stewart said.
“Let us know what we’re doing right, but also let us know what we can do better,” she said.
To contact the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce, call (763) 972-6756. The chamber web site is www.delanochamber.com.