It’s been a little over half a year since I started at the Chamber.  Some days it seems like just yesterday and some days it feels like forever ago.  My first few months on the job were a blur – that happens with most new jobs I suppose.  But it seems like every time I feel like I have my feet firmly underneath me and am ready to take that next step forward, something gives me a pause.

In 1789, Benjamin Franklin was credited as writing “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.  I would add change.  Eight months in now and all I can say is that my one constant at the Chamber is that it is always changing.  As creatures of habit, we resist change.  But if you think about it, even nature teaches us change.  The warm weather has allowed my kids to play outside at length (notwithstanding a little mud!).  Change of seasons, change of leadership, change in laws, change in staff, change in volunteers, change, change, change!

But for all this change, all the things that seem to just pop up, I almost kind of expect it now.  Or at the very least I am not surprised anymore.  Life has a way of teaching you.  And now, every time something changes, I just have to smile.  Sometimes I even chuckle to myself.  As predictable as the seasons, things change.  I see change all around – and not just because it’s spring.  This week, the sun warms my face and lifts my mood.  It reminds me that change, while sometimes unwelcomed, is good –like spring weather after a long winter.

Change your perspective. Embrace the change or at least learn to smile at it.

The only permanent thing is change.  I’m glad I can count on it.


Workforce Needed!

Increasingly, we are looking at a workforce shortage.  Particularly with skilled labor and in the energy industry.  It has been suggested that we look to bring others to Western North Dakota.  To market our area and to let others know what we already know:  that it is a great place to live and work.  And perhaps we will need to.  But, right here in our own backyard is a pool of potential candidates – or should I say will be within a few short years!  The growing school district enrollment and birth rates in the Williston Area in the past few years is proof of it.  Those being born here and going to school here will be one of our best workforce supply options in the future.  Even now, though, Williston State College and TrainND has an integral hand in shaping, educating, and training our next generation of employees.

The WSC Alumni Association is being revamped and it couldn’t be better timing in my opinion.   Their new director, Hunter Berg, is kicking off Alumni Week this year April 24th– 28th.   What better way to keep students connected to the community than to bring them back!  Showing them the vast opportunities right here in Teton Territory.  The Alumni Association helps support academic areas of the college (the Math and Science Department and student scholarships each year for example) and this helps attract and keep good quality students who can turn into good quality employees.

Like I said, good timing – just a month after a multi-industry job fair – Alumni Week may be able to tout not only fun events but also showcase the community and the ample job opportunities.  The WSC Alumni week’s final event will be a ‘Lucky Duck Race’ which they plan to make an annual event.  Everyone has a chance to be involved.  Businesses, adults, and kids alike.   Rules and information and entry forms for the race can be found here.  It will be on April 28th at 2pm at the ARC’s Lazy River.

I have already written and blogged about the opportunity for skilled jobs and the importance of a skilled and educated workforce for our businesses.  Our new member benefit, the Chamber Business Academy, (the partnership with TrainND and the Chamber) works to advance and keep our workforce current.  WSC does as well.  I look forward to the duck race next month.  I also look forward to seeing how the WSC Alumni Association unfolds to support our workforce.  You may want to check it out yourself – you might just get ‘lucky’ and win a race!


Jobs and Activity

I feel like the blizzard yesterday took a little wind out of my sails which is kind of ironic considering the 50-60 mph winds.   Actually, it was a refreshing pause to the non-stop action I’ve felt here at the Chamber.  We barely had our Annual Banquet under our belt, when the momentum of January 20th roared us all the way into March.   Reflecting back, I didn’t get to see much of President Trump’s inauguration that day.  We were busy making sure we had all the details taken care of for our Annual Banquet.  As I remember the inspiring speaker, the well-deserved awards, and the cooperation of the weather that day, I can tell that it was a turning point for our area.  I doubt it had as much to do with our speaker or the weather as it did with the changing of the guards in administrations.  Maybe it was just good timing.

Since then, the federal support of the energy industry sparked the confidence our area businesses needed to invest again in our growth.  Job Service of ND shows clear evidence of this.  In the month of February, four different energy companies hosted their own job fairs locally.  People who may have been laid off are being called back to work.  On March 22nd, Job Services’ Multi-Industry Job Fair will host over 60 companies (booths have sold out this year way in advance than any other year).   These companies, plus those on the wait list are looking for more than an estimated 1500 jobs.  Right now, the energy industry comprises over 35 % of the employers at the job fair who were looking to fill the majority of the available jobs.   Jobs in retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and service are also among those sought after as well.  Skilled labor is in high demand and employers are looking for quality people.

It seemed like a whirlwind of activity the last month and a half and the blizzard offered me a chance to breathe (which reminds me of a new app, by the way, that a friend told me about).  We should all remember to breathe.  Because as our area continues its inevitable growth, businesses and employers will continue to face workforce challenges along the way.  Even if you are not one of the booths at the job fair on March 22nd, no doubt you will at some point have a need for new employees.  It’s as predictable as the seasons.   And even if you have full staff for the foreseeable future, there may be employee issues on the horizon waiting to come your way.  As employers, you need to constantly be improving the way you do business, particularly when it comes to human resources.  That is why the Chamber along with The Dakotan Motel are sponsoring the lunch offered to employers at the job fair.  We are opening up limited seating for our members who can benefit from the information and Q&A session provided by the panel.  Hear from experts in Workforce and Safety & Insurance, Department of Labor, Unemployment Insurance, and Job Service.

I was just getting used to the weekend without having to wear a jacket and making travel plans without consulting the weather channel.  But the deep breath and the change in plans the blizzard afforded me was just what I needed to gear up to be flexible and busy again.  Our regional economy is energized and poised for the growth and activity that we know is here and will be here for our children’s children.  But it won’t be without challenges.  At the Chamber, we will stay busy supporting the businesses and encouraging a workforce that benefits the various industries that make Northwest North Dakota a great place to live and work.   Williston was once called the ‘city of opportunity’.  Joseph W. Jackson, one of Williston’s first mayors wrote “Williston has arrived and her future is brighter and far more certain than ever”.  This statement couldn’t be more true today considering that the whole region continues to be a place of opportunity…without an end in sight.


Free Secrets

Small business owners represent the majority of our members and I know first-hand how busy you can be!  Investing in your business can be tough and investing your time even tougher!  Your time is valuable…. who has an extra 5 minutes let alone 90?  But investing in your business, whether it is in your employees (by taking advantage of the Chamber Business Academy discounts) or revamping how you’ve always done things, is critical to really growing your business.

When was the last time you were able to do something to really affect and grow your business?  Perhaps it was attending our LevelUp last year and taking back some professional and business development ideas and putting them into place.

What about your marketing plan?  We all know that we need to market our business, but are we doing it the most effective and affordable way to maximize results?  With social media, digital media, websites, magazines, papers, television, billboards, radio…there are almost too many ways out there to advertise.  What is the best for your business?

The Chamber and the Williston Herald have collaborated to bring in acclaimed author Mike Blinder for a 90-minute workshop.  Mike is a leading multimedia expert who specializes in helping local businesses find local customers cost effectively.   The workshop will reveal his multimedia marketing secrets so you can apply it to grow your business.  Learn how to successfully advertise regardless of the media used.

I don’t know about you but I like to hear the words ‘affordable’ and ‘cost effective’.  I like even more to hear the word “free”.  Plan to come to one of the two FREE workshops – choose what’s best for you and your business:  March 13th over the lunch hour or March 15th over breakfast at the ARC.  Even the food is FREE.  Click here  to get details on registration.

The workshop and food may be complimentary, but you do need to invest your valuable time.  Nothing is ever really free, but consider the ROI for your 90 minutes – just imagine want you could accomplish over the next year.


Bismarck Capitol Bus Tour

I am a morning person, but getting to the back of the WSC parking lot by 5:15am on a -22 degree day was not my ideal way to begin a day.  But that’s what I did last Wednesday.  A few dozen of us did the same and boarded a bus headed to Bismarck.

I was a little nervous when we stopped for a bathroom break and coffee. After all, we didn’t have the buddy system where everyone was responsible for their partner – I think I did a head count like 10 times.  But we managed to not leave anyone behind and saw the sun rise as we continued on to Bismarck.  We arrived at the Capitol building mid-morning as some committee hearings were going on.  Some of us got to tour the building and if you have never been I highly recommend the tour. photo-1

Cindy, our tour guide, knew so much information about ND, the building, and the way our government is run unique to our state!  Stories about the fire that destroyed the first building in just 4 hours, or how the very rare wood that was accidentally shipped to the capitol was incorporated into the art deco design.   Local building materials that were used and how everything had a purpose in its design.  The 19-story building that at one time needed a trolley from town is one of only a handful in the country with the skyscraper design and tallest building in North Dakota.  Each floor has different departments or agencies and the senate and house floors are designed and illuminated to look like the sun and moon.  It’s a beautiful building rich in history and a government steeped in tradition.   We even got to view Bismarck from the observation deck and sit in where the ND Supreme Court meets.  Not to mention the heritage center next door – but that is for another blog.

Over lunch at the Capitol Café, our District 1 representatives carved out time for us and presented a quick update on bills coming through and what they are working on.  Senator Bekkedahl, and Representatives Sukut and Hatlestad do an amazing job – and I would be remiss without thanking them for all that they do for our district.  Our new Lieutenant Governor Brent Sanford joined us for lunch and gave us an update on his and Governor Burgum’s focus and priorities. photo-2 We also got to hear from Greater North Dakota Chamber President Andy Peterson on their focus at the state level supporting businesses across the state.

Next, we got to sit in on the house and senate sessions.  A select few even sat on the floor with our representatives as they voted. photo-3 There are many moving parts to the Legislative Assembly and seeing it first hand is a great way to feel comfortable in getting involved.  While I can’t thank our representatives enough, we also hope to fostering new ones who will eventually take their place.   And while often times, we attempt to bring our representatives to us – like we did with Congressman Cramer on Friday – it’s altogether different to see them in action!

After the session, we boarded the bus again to head back.  I was still just as nervous that someone would be left behind at the truck stop, but we all made it back to Williston at the same dark it was when we left.  It was a long day but the 2017 Williston Legislative Day was worth it!  Both the Chamber’s leadership and education committee and the government affairs committee support this trip every two years when the legislature is in session.  Trekking to Bismarck is never easy, but it is important in keeping Northwest North Dakota top of mind at the state level.  Maybe you can join us in 2019!


Fostering the Entrepreneur

Three years ago, the Chamber’s Leadership and Education committee and the Leadership Williston class along with a bunch of individuals and numerous business sponsors brought a national youth entrepreneurship program to the Williston Area.  We were the first city in North Dakota to have Lemonade Day – a free community-wide program that teaches our youth how to start, own and operate their own business through the time-tested activity: a lemonade stand!

I remember trying to sell lemonade on my cul-de-sac as a kid.  I didn’t get much traffic – perhaps just my 7 neighbors who humored me with a few quarters.  I didn’t quite know what I was doing.  What’s great about the Lemonade Day program is that it teaches kids…not only important life skills such as setting goals and carrying their plans out to completion.  But it also teaches very useful business skills like creating a budget, writing a business plan (considering advertising, location, supplies, etc.), and giving back to the community.   The Lemonade Day philosophy of ‘Spend, Save and Share’ is instilled in those participating.  The program offers opportunities for families and businesses – the whole community in fact – to foster the kind of foundation our youth need to become successful citizens.

Thanks to free materials and support from local sponsors and various volunteers this has been a successful day and growing two years in a row.  In 2015 we had 125 kids registered and about 40 lemonade stands around the Williston area.  In 2016 we registered 158 kids and had about 70 lemonade stands around the Williston area.  This year, the Chamber is partnering with the Williston Young Professionals to help execute our 3rd Annual Willison Lemonade Day!  You may have already gotten a letter asking for your support as a sponsor or business location – please consider being involved in this great educational event.  This year also marks the spreading of the program to other North Dakota cities.

I look forward to participating in Lemonade Day this year with my son – and I hope that you will also have a role in making the 3rd Annual Williston Lemonade Day successful – if for nothing less than buying and tasting several glasses of lemonade around town on June 17th and make a kid smile!


If you have any questions or would like to volunteer or sponsor please call the Chamber (701-577-6000), Chelsea (714-235-6467) or Jaden (719-659-4750).

Real Winners

I couldn’t wait to give out the awards Friday night!  For weeks, we had to keep a lid on both our guest speaker and award winners which was so hard because they were all exceptional!  I was truly honored to be able to hand these out to some truly deserving people.

Over 300 people attended our Annual Banquet held on Friday and seven awards were presented.  The Chamber has a long history of awarding admirable community and business leaders.  I mentioned before, but indeed need to mention it again.  The over 20 nominations from the membership this past year is truly a testament to the quality of people living and working in this community.  Committee members and the Chamber Board of Directors voted on those nominations and the winners were announced that night – several receiving standing ovations.

The Williston State College Foundation bestowed the first award – the Leonard P. Nelson Philanthropy Award.  Terry Olson, Executive Director of the Williston State College Foundation presented Lois Scheele with that award for donating over $5 million to the Mondak Animal Rescue.  The Chamber presented the next six awards.  The award winners are:

  • Chamber Connector Award – Kristin Oxendahl (Salvation Army of Williston)
  • Community Engagement Award – Bras For A Cause accepted by Marti Pankowski, Founder
  • Williston Leadership Award – Steve Slocum (First National Bank & Trust)
  • Ward Koeser Advocacy Award – David Montgomery (Williams County Commission)
  • Patriot Award – Theresa Scully (Veterans Assistance Clinic)
  • Distinguished Western Star Award – Cyndy Aafedt (El Rancho Hotel)

The Chamber’s oldest and highest award is the Distinguished Western Star Award.  It is presented to an individual promoting Williston as a great place to live and work over a period of time.  The 2016 awardee, Cyndy Aafedt, was recognized for being an ambassador and volunteer; donating her time, talents, and resources (often financial) to various Williston organizations.

Attendees finished off their evening with an entertaining and inspiring guest speaker.  Kansas City Chiefs Mascot (KC Wolf) – Dan Meers, not only entertained the crowd in costume, but also inspired us with his speech and additionally, with the sale of his books gave a portion back to the beneficiary of this year’s silent auction: The North Dakota Association of the Blind, a participant from the 2016 Community Connections Expo.  It was a tremendous evening and I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the committees,  volunteers, staff, and all those who helped us keep the secret!

I couldn’t be more proud of this community – and while there may have been several award winners recognized that night, I think we all win by having known them.


In Case You Missed It…

Our Annual Meeting was our chance to update our membership on all that we do.  Many people devote their time and energy behind the scenes, helping us in our mission to serve the business community.  Start with our Board of Directors who provide the leadership to govern the organization:  While 2016 proved to be a year of transition, one pillar board member was recognized at the meeting.  Travis Kelley (Target Logistics) has served on the Board for six years – including in 2015 as Chair and 2016 as Past Chair.  His leadership and constancy throughout the years through various evolutions was vital.  The membership also voted in three board members for new two-year terms:  Bill Glen (Glen Development), Audrey Kalil (NDSU Extension Center), and Larry Timpe (Cherry Creek Radio).  2016 Board Chair Rick Braaten (American State Bank & Trust) who faithfully served in 2016 stepped into the Past Chair role as the new 2017 officers were selected:

Chair – Matt Grimshaw (CHI St. Alexius Health Williston)img_0039
Chair Elect – Mitzi Bestall (ReMax/Bakken Realty)
Treasurer – Brad Curtis (First National Bank & Trust)
Secretary – Bill Glen (Glen Development)

Continuing to serve the board from 2016 into 2017 are Lenny Johnson (Starboard) and Brandon Lerbakken (JMAC).  With a full committed board, we can continue to move forward.

Alongside staff, our seven committees are responsible for implementation of the Chamber objectives and programs set forth by the Board and could not function properly without a volunteer leader.  These Committee Chairs (including two outgoing committee chairs – Jennifer Long and Monette Dias) are deserving of recognition as well.  They include:

Amber Barnes (Hampton Inn & Suites)
Grant Carns (Williams County Veteran’s Service)
Greg Hennessy (Hennessy Law Firm)
Moses Jacobs (EAPC Architects Engineers)
Lenny Johnson (Starboard)
Sarah Johnson (WCCU)
Crystal Purdy (Candlewood Suites)

Additionally, the numerous committee members, while too many to mention here, are invaluable to the Chamber as well.  Last but not least, the dedication of our Chamber staff – Bekka, Kelsey and Shawna is remarkable!    I am grateful for you all!  I can already tell 2017 is going to be a great year!

The Annual Meeting of the Membership today was a chance to acknowledge all the hard work the Chamber does all year long for our membership and community.  I look forward to recognizing even more leaders in this community and enjoying an evening of entertainment.  See you Friday at the Banquet!


And the Winner is…

At the Chamber, we love to recognize all the hard work that goes on in this Community.   There are many amazing people that do remarkable things besides run their businesses day after day and year after year.

Besides having a chance to network, eat, be entertained, and get informed on the Chamber next week at our two annual events, you will also be receiving your 2017 Business Directory.  As you recall, we had a photo contest for the front cover and we had many great submissions.  Our winning photo was submitted by Paul Gilbert, owner of Dakota Prints!  The 2nd place photo was submitted by Lavina Domagala who is employed at First National Bank & Trust and the 3rd place photo was submitted by Leann Cornell who is employed at Trinity Health Western Dakota!  Congratulations to all of you and thanks to everyone who participated in our contest.  While the winning photo is featured on the cover, the 2nd and 3rd place photos are included in the directory as well.

But they aren’t the only winners.  The Chamber has a long history of giving out awards.  Our Patriot Award and Western Star are the oldest.  Over 35 people have received awards over 20 years – that’s a lot of dedicated business leaders in this community!   We have in recent years added more awards (Connector, Engagement, Leadership and Advocacy).  This year, the Chamber will be giving out 6 awards.  As I mentioned before, there are so many amazing people in this community.  The over 20 nominations we received in November and December is proof of that.   The committee members had a tough job to do – rating each of these nominees in order to find a winner.  Each nominee merited our recognition but indeed a winner was selected for each of the 6 awards.

I bet you were hoping to find out who will receive awards this year at our Banquet.  Sorry to disappoint you in this blog.  You won’t be disappointed on Friday January 20th though!  When you join other members in an evening of fun, food and entertainment, and, of course, our awards, you’ll find out who the Chamber wishes to recognize and why.   I trust you have your tickets already reserved for the upcoming Annual Banquet and have RSVP’d to the Annual Meeting next week.  If not, call the chamber today (577-6000).  I look forward to seeing you there!


Did You Know?

All employees of member business are considered members of the Chamber and therefore can (and should!) take advantage of member benefits.  Take our newest benefit for example: discounts on specific courses offered by TrainND thanks to our new partnership.  These benefits are great for you, your employees, AND your business.  Winter courses are now available for registration and some classes begin as early as January 9th.  If your new year’s resolution involves improving yourself or your business, contact the Chamber today for registration details.    But that’s only one benefit of many….

As our new member packet explains, the Chamber isn’t just another club: we connect, engage, grow and lead.  We offer numerous opportunities for the businesses in the area and the community at large.  Opportunities like networking, events, education, marketing, advertising, bulk mailing, mailing labels, rentals, and referrals!  With so many opportunities to help your business, it is no wonder over 500 businesses invest in the Chamber.   Our member business sizes vary – slightly over 10 members have more than 100 employees in the area.  Most are small businesses with less than 10 employees.  We also have nonprofit members and individuals that invest and support the Chamber.  Our rough (low) estimate is that approximately 5,000 people can take advantage of Chamber membership benefits!  Are you taking full advantage?  Do all your employees know they can take advantage?  Do your employees receive our newsletter?  If not, please forward it on.

You know when I first started someone said to me – it must be hard having so many bosses!  It’s true – we ultimately are responsible to and work for our membership.  So I guess you could say I have over 500 bosses!  But I don’t think it is hard.  I am honored to live and work in a community like this one where people are connected and engaged.

When member businesses invest in the Chamber we are able to offer all the events, programs, services and opportunities the businesses and the community are used to plus continue to find more.  So thank you!!


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