By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Business leaders in Howard Lake are in the process of creating a chamber of commerce that is vital to the growth and development of Howard Lake and the surrounding area.
Business leaders, school and city officials, and members of the Howard Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (HLACC) were invited to a meeting Wednesday to discuss and gather data about what the chamber is, what it does, and how it is planning to restructure.
It was also a listening session to hear expectations for the chamber regarding its purpose and how it should operate to most benefit individual businesses and the community.
City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller, who led the session, noted that local chambers work to bring the business community together and develop strong local networks, which can result in a business-to-business exchange.
Typically, chambers work with the local government to develop pro-business initiatives, Haggenmiller noted.
Currently, the HLACC meets at noon the third Wednesday of the month at the American Legion, and all members present have voting privileges on the topics discussed.
The executive board of the chamber includes President Duane Burkstrand, Vice President Jeff Schoess, Secretary Louise Arlien, and Treasurer Bonnie Seegmiller.
The priorities set by the chamber in 2013 include increasing membership, defining the chamber, and determining the best way to function.
Current projects of the chamber include developing a website and initiating a storefront grant program.
Members of HLACC in attendance at the meeting shared their reasons for being members of the chamber most of which pertained to relationship building amongst the businesses in the community.
“The biggest thing (chambers) offer is relationship building,” Haggenmiller said.
Expectations for an area chamber of commerce
An area chamber of commerce is typically expected to do several things for businesses that are members, the least of which is to provide referrals and publications, both electronically and in print form.
At this time, HLACC is developing a website which will list local businesses and provide information about member businesses.
Understanding the local economy by conducting retail business analysis and market area profiles is also something expected of chambers, and some of these studies are planned for Howard Lake in the near future, according to Haggenmiller.
Chamber members also expect the organization to promote local business through chamber bucks, holiday shopping promotions, partnerships between local retail or hospitality groups, and yearly business or community expos.
HLACC does promote local shopping by awarding Howard Lake Bucks during promotions, and a hospitality group has been formed in Howard Lake between the dining establishments.
Working with schools, the city, and other community groups such as HL Thrive are also expectations members have of their chamber whether it be managing storefront grant programs or lobbying for things such as pedestrian safety and parking.
Another expectation of chambers is to provide social and networking opportunities for businesses in the community by organizing events such as business after hours, golf scrambles, holiday parties, and quarterly lunches.
Recognition of new businesses and residents is also something a chamber should be involved in to welcome them to the community and help them learn what is available in the community.
Education and training opportunities are other items chamber members expect from a chamber of commerce.
This can take place in the form of lunch lecture series, discussion and research into business trends and topics, and inviting guest speakers to chamber events.
Opportunities for HLACC
Haggenmiller noted that schools should be seen as an economic resource for the chamber, and the chamber can assist with referendum and building topics.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School Principal Jason Mix noted it is his goal to institute a requirement in the next few years that students participate in a service learning project before being allowed to graduate.
To that end, the school would need to partner with local businesses where students could go and learn as part of the project, he said.
Both Haggenmiller and Mix praised the HLWW FFA as a great example of students volunteering in the community to make it a better place to live.
“It’s getting harder and harder for small towns to recruit skilled labor, but if we get them involved while they are still in high school, to show them they can work and thrive in the community, they are more likely to stay or come back,” Haggenmiller said.
Jeff Schoess, who owns a medical device research company in Howard Lake, noted he hires high school students to be mentored and receive training in engineering.
Dura Supreme also hires college students and the children of employees to work during the summer, said Steve Michel, director of human resources at Dura Supreme.
Mix also noted that high school students have a lot of ideas about what they would like to see in their community, and should be involved in the initiatives taking place by the chamber and HL Thrive.
HLACC can be a partner with the city in implementing a storefront grant program for businesses to improve the outside of their buildings.
Marilyn Ringold, owner of Howard Lake Drug, pointed out the ideas the Minnesota Design Team had for block 18, located on the south side of US Highway 12 between Seventh and Eighth avenues.
She would like to see the entrance to the parking lot off Eighth Avenue become a pedestrian walkway to make it safer for pedestrians patronizing businesses in that area.
Picnic tables and other places to be outside are something her students are always looking for on block 18, said April Anderson, owner of Anderson’s NAR/HHA Training.
“If you guys collectively get together and work with [the city and HLACC], we can do a whole lot more,” Haggenmiller said, noting that most of block 18 is publicly owned.
He noted that one of the biggest challenges there is at the city level is how to get from where Howard Lake is today, to the vision of how it should look in 2050.
“A lot of great efforts have happened already,” he said, adding that great materials came out of the MDT visit in 2011 for how Howard Lake could look in the future.
It was noted that excitement breeds excitement, and the more people the chamber can get attending meetings and becoming involved in committees, the stronger it will become.
One business owner noted his frustration that the only networking opportunity the former business association provided was the yearly business expo.
He suggested the best way to market the community is to unite city and businesses in a collective campaign.
Proposed committee structure for chamber
The proposed structure for HLACC moving forward is to have a monthly executive meeting which all members are welcome to attend, hold committee meetings as necessary, and schedule regular social networking and monthly or quarterly events.
Suggested committees include:
• a business development committee that would oversee the business expo and ad hoc projects, such as business analysis;
• a quality of life committee to plan social and networking opportunities, such as golf scrambles and monthly social gatherings, for businesses in the community;
• an organizational leadership committee to provide stewardship in planning lunch and learn lecture series, membership drives, foster relationships with the city and HLWW, and market the organization; and,
• a government and schools committee that would work with HL Thrive and manage the storefront grant program.
The goal of structuring HLACC in this fashion is to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of overall organization and to increase overall participation.