It has been an honor as a business leader to serve as the 2018 Chairman of the Board of Directors for the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce.
I’d like to thank my wife for supporting me with the extra time and patience this past year and my family, especially my parents Bill & Marilyn Jaekel, that taught me the importance of giving back. To my fellow board members and the impressive group of talent that so graciously volunteers their time for our community. I would also like to thank my friends and co-workers at JRM CPAs for collectively taking on a little extra in a very busy year to help support me this past year.
It’s been said that if you want to know what goes on in an organization, join for the board. If you really want to know what goes on in an organization, volunteer to lead it. The amount of work that goes into running this Chamber is impressive to say the least and I want to thank Vicki for her countless hours and her staff for all the work they do and to Maggie for taking the lead to plan this wonderful evening.
You may recall last year’s annual meeting when we officially launched our 150th year celebration. It was in back in 1868 when a group of businesses gathered together to form a group to help improve our business community and attract more businesses to our growing 12 year old City.
- From a river-trading post
- to lumberyards with cut trees floating down the Mississippi
- to a brewery and manufacturing hub
- to a tourist attraction that is remarked upon nationwide
- to a medical community with some of the best healthcare in the world
- to a downtown that is not only surviving but is thriving
Our forefathers planted the seeds to what we have become today and this community honors their efforts with our success.
For our 150th year, the Chamber celebrated and reconnected with pivotal parts of our community and Chamber history.
- We celebrating the 1980 opening of the La Crosse Center and took an active role in advocating for its expansion.
- We celebrated the opening on the Valley View Mall, also in 1980. At a special gathering we learned about their plans for to evolve for the next 38 years.
- One of the most remarkable 150th events was a gathering at the Franciscan Sisters’ Spirituality Center to see how faith is still occurring in our leadership.
- Finally, we celebrated the Pride of the North Side, received a little history from some long time residents, celebrated the merger of our once separate north and south sides and received an update on the Uptowne initiative.
The key driver of the Chamber is its advocacy.
For 39 years we’ve been now we’ve been uniting the business community with our elected officials through the Forum, F/K/A the Cracker Barrel. For its anniversary, we united eight former and current elected representatives to speak about how and why the political dynamics have changed.
In 2018 we were a successful voice for business. As one of only a dozen Chambers in the Midwest that fly to Washington DC, .. we added our local voice and examples to help with tax reform. This year we’ll go back with feedback on suggested changes to the last tax act….. We worked toward leveling the playing field with online sales tax collections and bringing back lost tax revenue to the state. Thanks to the Supreme Court (which we did not lobby), we now have that. Those sales tax dollars are estimated to bring in an additional $300k to La Crosse County and $21 million to Wisconsin.
Our businesses pleaded for greater transportation funding in Madison and increased local aid to roads. We’re optimistic that 2019 may finally be the year.
Our voice was heard at the County and in Madison on the Premier Resort Area Sales Tax and the impacts to the local businesses. We pushed the County on getting a referendum in a major election, which they did. Since this is still a pending issue, we will continue to push solutions that balances the needs of the business community with the revenue needed by the County.
The Chamber also took child care issues to Madison stressing that in nine years under the current regulations, child care businesses have dropped from 330 to 87 with many providers choosing to go unregulated. We look to expand on this with our DC trip and highlight the regulatory burns that are squeezing out child care providers and impacting our workforce availability.
In an election year, the Chamber interviewed local county board candidates on business related topics and reported those back to our members.
The Chamber also united global businesses and farmers for a listening session on tariffs with Rep. Ron Kind. And held special forum with the DOT Secretary David Ross and Governor Walker.
Because regulatory and tax changes require education, our special forums included a tax reform update….internet sales tax collection….opportunity zones….and a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) training.
We did a reverse forum on strengthening our airport where elected officials were the primary audience.
On that note, as we continued to be a strong supporter of our La Crosse Regional airport, we want to congratulate them on adding a La Crosse to Detroit flight through Delta, helping with east-coast travel. As more people understand the economic savings of flying from La Crosse, that increase in volume will help with continued expansion opportunities.
We also are a supporter of strengthening the La Crosse Club. With its beautiful view outside the Radisson that provides a quiet place for meetings, lunches and confidential conversations.
The Chamber works to help businesses grow by investing in people.
The 33rd graduating class of the Chamber’s Community Leadership program are now leaders with a better understanding of how this community impacts them professionally and personally. We encourage them to spark their own amazing changes in our community.
Our Servant Leadership classes continue to be one of highest rated development opportunities. Now in its third year of partnership with Viterbo, it shows no sign of slowing down.
To help with workforce shortages, we began a talent development committee that focused on attracting diversity by holding a diversity educational event this past year.
The Chamber’s successful Young Professionals group has nearly 190 members. These 21-40 year olds connect and develop through education and networking events. They heard from great leaders at First Supply and Festival, they helped us improve our relocation guide, and they networked on the La Crosse Queen and at a Loggers Game – finally ending the year with a successful Snowball event.
Finally, the Chamber strengthens businesses by connecting them.
The Business After Hours is one of those opportunities to eat, drink, and connect with the hosting companies such as:
- UW-L’s and their resources
- Gensler’s amazing and innovative office space
- Looking at the booming development in Holmen while having fun at Verve’s new branch office
- walking through an awesome new apartment complex in Holmen with Three Amigos
- experiencing the transition of how a former jail can become apartments with a rooftop basketball court, condos and more with the Hub on 6th
- connecting with amazing workforce opportunities with VARC and
- sharing holiday cheer at the Gundersen Hotel & Suites.
The Chamber is your go-to organization for celebrating. With special thanks to our amazing ambassadors who helped us with 31 ribbon cuttings this year for ground breakings, grand openings, anniversaries and more.
This work is fueled by passionate volunteers who inspire our small staff and board of directors. It is a group I was proud to chair in 2018.
As I step away from my year as Board Chair I am excited to see what’s next for the Chamber. I am especially excited to welcome our next leader Lynn Bruns, from ISG. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Lynn over the past few years and have appreciated his insight and leadership, especially with the talent development committee. He brings a wealth of talent and experience to this position and I look forward to supporting him.