I’d like to cast my vision for 2019 as your incoming Chamber Board chair by sharing a poem.  I hope you are poetry fans.  The poem is titled:

Builder or wrecker?

By Charles Benvegar

I watched them tearing a building down,
  A gang of men in a busy town;
With a ho-heave-ho and a lusty yell
  They swung a beam and a side wall fell.
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
  And the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed!
   Just common labor is all I need;
I can easily wreck in a day or two
   What builders have taken a year to do!”
I thought to myself as I went my way,
  Which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care
  Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my deeds by a well-made plan,
  Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
  Content with the labor of tearing down? 

 By your presence in this room and engagement in our chamber – I know you’re all builders.  Building applies to many aspects of our lives.  We build buildings.   We build relationships.  We build businesses.  We build families.  We build organizations. And, we build communities.

Whatever you build, you want to be proud of it and not wreck what someone else may be building.  You may ask, how are we applying this to building the Chamber organization?  At Vicki’s suggestion and under Ed’s leadership 0ur Chamber Board began assessing ourselves based on the book “Making Remarkable”.   Building, similar to making, takes care and a plan.  The book says to evaluate everything you do from your purpose, your people to your platform – to evaluate it, you ask the question is it remarkable? If it is not, either adapt it or shed it. We’ve begun that path.   During 2019 we plan to evaluate all of our programs and adapt or shed them in the spirit of making them remarkable. Building a remarkable organization and community takes care, a well-made plan, and all of us patiently doing the best we can.

A common challenge identified by several of our members is Talent Development.  The blessing of abundant work and growth comes with the challenge of more jobs in our area than people available to fill them.  Two initiatives began this year to help our community attract more talent.  First, is a focus on developing a consistent message and brand in our community.  We know La Crosse is a great place to visit and raise a family.  It has the assets of a thriving business community, strong education for our youth, top notch healthcare, abundant recreational opportunities and a vibrant downtown.  Recruits still ask, so what?  Developing a consistent message to attract people to live and work hear can be improved.


Second, we have launched the First Friend program, also known as the concierge. Beth Franklin will be a resource to introduce and welcome candidates and new hires to our community through tours, welcome baskets, and introductions to hopefully connect and engage them in the community. The slogan is – the businesses sell the company and the career opportunity and the First Friend helps sell the community.

This program is funded by the Relocation Guide – through funders such as First Supply, Kaplan, Chart, Kwik Trip, Gundersen and Mayo. It will be pay-per-use for others wanting to use the program.  


 2019 will also be a year that we not only focus on gaining new members, but also on demonstrating appreciation for you, our current members.  Thank you for your membership.  We also want to demonstrate we are listening.  Recent surveys and conversations helped us pinpoint one thing – it is by uniting in person that we create a sense of being a business community. Our businesses want to network with meaning. They want connections to the community. Our members are telling us that two primary reasons they join are to connect with other businesses and they feel an obligation to connect with the community.

If your goals for connection through the Chamber are for networking, advocacy, education, or development, we want to make sure the program for accomplishing those goals is effective.  Last month we hosted a Business Before Hours.  Honestly – the event was not remarkable but we feel it has potential – people expected something similar to our closely named Business After Hours, but this event was intended to be different.  To make that event better, we will host Community Connections on months we do not have a Business After Hours. This will be an opportunity for the business community to connect with others and focus on topics at hand that are relevant to you and your business.  In the spirit of Making Remarkable.  We will make sure all of our events, the Forum, Connect in 60, Business After Hours, Community Connections, and others are evaluated, continually improved, or shed.

Two other new programs for 2019 that I want to touch on briefly. 

First, we have partnered with Trust Point to launch a 401k retirement plan for small businesses with less than 50 employees. The Chamber owns the plan and pays the larger fees. Each member company coming into the plan pays $400 the first year and $250 each additional year. The benefit is not only a low-cost plan with great flexibility, but also the ability to pool the money to reduce fees. Many thanks to Trust Point for working with us on that.

 Another program that is also Leadercast Women live stream. In October, our Chamber Foundation will host a sister event to the Dahl’s Leadercast event in May. Leadercast Women live stream with the same top notch speakers. The goal is to empower more women to grow in their careers and into leadership roles. We are seeking partners for this event.

You will find more information on all of these programs in your Annual Meeting program.

 Thank you, again for your membership.  Like Charles Benvegar stated in the poem, building takes care, a well-made plan, and patiently doing the best we can.  Please remain engaged and continue building something remarkable in our community and making 2019 the best we can.

 I’d like to conclude with a toast and then Mitch can run two more sponsor videos.  Here’s to prosperity – and the wisdom to use it well.