Chamber makes positive steps
Despite a sluggish economy that isn’t showing many signs of improving, the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce has had a year of significant positive growth, a fact that brings a smile to the face of the organization’s executive director, Lara Reed.
“We’ve welcomed 64 new members in 2011, a number we’re very proud of,” said Reed, who assumed the director duties on May 16. “That number speaks a lot to the work that has happened here in the last year. It shows that the community is supporting what we’re doing, and they’re getting on board.”
Reed succeeded Kim Swisher, who resigned from the role in late winter to take the Community Education Coordinator position with the School District of Rhinelander. Reed said that the chamber’s willingness to work with other community groups and organizations, one of Swisher’s top priorities during her time in the position, is something the community is taking note of.
“There’s definitely a growing community feel among the different organizations in Rhinelander,” said Reed. “The more we are out there in the community, participating and making positive contributions, the more businesses are taking note of that and jumping on board with what we’re trying to do.”
Now that the busy tourist season is winding down, Reed said the chamber board has begun looking toward the future, with plans to implement programs that not only aide tourists and visitors to the Rhinelander area, but also help those who live and work here on an every day basis, and the businesses that cater to those locals.
“We have to do that,” explained Reed. “Rhinelander is an interesting community in that there is a focus on tourism, but also on service and industry. Balancing those can be challenging, but we’d be dropping the ball if we only focused on one of those.”
One of the newest ways the chamber has found to appeal to members is the “Member of the Week” promotion on the organization’s Facebook page. Each week, Reed features a new member business, including a summary of the business’s history in the community, their hours, any promotions they currently have running and what they have to offer. She said the program is something that is relatively easy to do, while benefitting each business through the thousands of Facebook users that follow the chamber’s fan page.
“In tough times, any positive promotion can be appreciated,” said Reed. “We want our members to know that we are available and we care about how they’re doing.”
Another program that got it’s start during Swisher’s time at the helm is the organization’s new Volunteer Database. Originally a project implemented by three graduates of the 2010 Leadership Oneida County Program, this is a computer software program that allows organizations in need of volunteers to sign up and create a profile. People interested in volunteering, whether it be for only a few hours one day or on a more permanent basis, can sign up and be entered into a database, creating in essence a match-making program for interested volunteers and needy organizations.
“I really think it is a great opportunity for the community to work together as one,” said Reed. “It’s exciting.”
Reed herself said she’s continued to get more comfortable in her role as she’s become more familiar with the business community. She began the role right at the kick-off of the busy tourist season, and admits that her head was spinning.
“At the time it was very overwhelming, but I think I adjusted fairly quickly,” said Reed. “I believe I function best in high-pressure situations, so I’m almost glad that it happened the way it did, and I was thrown into the fire. I learned much more that way.” Reed pointed out that her biggest challenge personally was to realize, and manage, the expectations of the organization. The chamber only has three employees (Reed and two part-time office staffers,) so she quickly had to learn when to say no, even though it was difficult at times.
“I realized pretty quick that I couldn’t do everything, so it came down to what was important to the community and to myself,” she said. “Defining expectations is important. Fortunately I have a terrific board that has helped me do that.”
While the chamber has seen quite a bit of turnover in the executive director role over the last decade, Reed said she sees herself here for a while.
“I love my job; every day it’s something different,” she said. “I like knowing that there’s a big job in front of me. That keeps me motivated to make a difference here.”