Category Archives: connecting

The Next Chapter

Alas, my time here is ending as a resident. Much sooner than I could have imagined. Two plus years ago, I took a shot on a challenge to run the Chamber of Commerce in the fastest growing city in the U.S. And likewise, the Chamber’s Board and the business community took a chance on me, a born and raised cheesehead. This NoDak Badger learned a fewNoDakBadger things and take with me lasting friendships and experiences. I try to explain to others “you don’t know Williston, until you’ve lived in Williston.”  So as I pack my fly rods and guitar and move to Bismarck next week, here’s my last take as a Willistonian.

  1. I learned that North Dakota IS a political Grand Canyon of the Plains, and that East v West isn’t just a name for the NBA All-Star game. It’s hard to ignore that Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck get the vast majority of the state and nation’s attention, including federal program funding.It will be up to the leadership of the state AND of the western political subdivisions to continue to build a bridge across that canyon. The way it shapes up now, not even Evel Knievel could jump that thing.
  2. I learned that an economy that relies heavily on one commodity (ag, energy) is going to have to learn to ride the waves. The tsunami of people and activity that crashed on the shores of the Little Muddy a few years ago has subsided. Only the strongest remain stout and tall as the wave recedes back into the hills. And those that remain are even stronger still when the next wave comes (and it will).
  3. I learned that in a state of 730,000 people, one group or community or strong voice CAN affect the direction of policy and sentiment.
  4. I learned that some of what the national media portrays of Williston is true and self inflicted. Some of what has been said about the area is only to sell headlines and sensationalize. ABC’s Blood and Oil, the short-lived TV series is among the worst offenses in recent memory.If you want the picture to look different or the story to sound different, you must take control of the message.

I suppose this is also the space where  I lay out the “what Williston needs” list. Rather than going there, because everyone thinks Williston needs something different, let’s use four key community qualitative metrics as a measuring stick. You be the judge on how Williston’s doing in each of these areas.

I’m referencing a presentation I heard in Sioux Falls last week from Mac Holladay, a community image guru and keynote speaker for the event. Mac says you need to identify four things for a community to be successfully competitive in today’s battle to attract and retain America’s best workforce talent.  America’s got talent, but definitely not enough for every community. Read this section with the idea of attracting city administrator candidates to Williston (for instance).

A. Education & Workforce Sustainability. What sort of education and workforce to you want in the community? Do you understand the generational differences and embrace them when it comes to education and workforce needs? What innovative ways can the community help fill that workforce shortage? How much emphasis will be placed on those issues to compete with the Minots, the Bismarcks, Grand Forks’ and Fargos?

B. Place. The ‘place’ is inseparable from your workforce attractiveness. Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist said:

“Economic development today, more than ever before, is about talent management. Regions that are successful in economic development are creating and maintaining a community that is attractive for creative workers.”

There are three’qualitative’ community questions:

  1. Can people easily access the place using a variety of transportation options?
  2. Does the community make a good first impression? Do you feel safe? Is it free of litter? Does it ‘feel’ inviting?
  3. How many different types of activities are occurring? Do people use the community space, or does it sit empty? Are there choices of things to do?

C. Diversity. Embracing diversity to ensure economic growth and stability over the long term. Many studies point to the statistics that half of all children in America today, under the age of 5, are non-white. The term diversity also applies to religious, lifestyle, business, culture, etc, and not just skin color.

D. Regionalism. This concept is the direct opposite to ‘silo-ism’ or taking care of ourselves. Fewer resources mean either a cutthroat mentality, whereby only the large and political survive; or it means banding together for the longer, prosperous road ahead. Think beyond the city limits, and beyond the next budget cycle.


The potential for Williston to be the true ‘western star’ of North Dakota is real. The biggest challenge for the city is to proactively define what it will be; five, ten or twenty years from now, and not let the outside critics and media define the image.

Embracing change is difficult. Those companies and leaders who understand the need to adapt to changing economic conditions will survive. Those that fight change may win once in a while, but in the long run, will be left behind. In the end, it’s not about winning. It’s about doing what is right.

My parting thoughts are a simple and humble thank you. To the Chamber Board for their support the past two plus years and the trust they had in my guiding the Chamber ship through these wild waters. To the staff, without whom nothing would have been possible. To the community leadership for supporting the businesses in Williston as they improve the quality of life here for everyone and spur economic growth; both in and out of the oil and gas industry.

Finally, to the Williston community: Don’t lament the loss of another drilling rig. Embrace what you do have already – talented, caring people who when they work together, can accomplish great things.

Besides, I’m not really leaving. Just moving.

Thanks.
Scott Signature-small.jpeg

 

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New year, new goals, new focus

It was easy as a National Guard photojournalist. Once per month, get an assignment, take some pics, write the story and by 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, hand it over to the editor. Taking on a writing project (like a blog, for instance) on your own brings an entirely new level of responsibility. Like actually doing it.

Image result for deadlines

Most of the last twenty entries came out of this keyboard with flowing grace, seemingly appearing effortlessly on my screen, like snow flakes floating down late some calm December afternoon.  The new year has brought on a flurry of new intensity, and focus on our Chamber’s core missions. So let’s get to it.

Banquet wrap up
The Programs & Services Committee started to work in earnest last summer planning the 2016 Annual Banquet, which culminated on January 22 in roaring fashion. We tweaked the event slightly untitled-50from 2015 including:

  • Separated the ‘business meeting’ portion from the banquet. This gave an opportunity to hear from staff and committee chairs about their efforts.
  • Incorporating a theme, encouraging attendees and sponsors to ‘dress up’ for the night. We heard most of our positive feedback surrounding this detail.
  • Reduced our sponsorship opportunities to create more value for those Members who partnered with us.
  • Re-arranged the room to fit more people in seats.
  • Pulled off a limited live auction to raise funds for The Friends and Veterans of The Old Armory.

In all, we could not be more pleased with the support, partnership with Red River Supply our presenting sponsor, and everyone who attended the wonderful evening. Standing ovation goes to the Chamber staff, June, Bekka and Shawna; and of course the Chamber’s Programs and Services Committee. Which by the way has already been scheming about next year’s annual festivities!

New website, new opportunities
As we promised last year, we delivered a Williston business directory for the first time; and launched the 2016 version of http://www.willistonchamber.com. With the help of DAWA Solutions Group, the Chamber’s website is now able to be mentioned in the same drop down menu as Williston Economic Development, Williston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, Williams County and the the City of Williston.

The best part is that we’ll be able to have ALL events listed for members and non-members, making our website THE resource for tons of events, organizations and information. We look forward to working on fleshing that website out as we move forward.

Next week we’ll explore the political and issues of 2016 we’ll be following and influencing.

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Ribfest is about more than ribs

It’s not quite as bad as Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce makes it out to be in the classic M*A*S*H* episode “Adam’s Ribs.” But we all look for ‘something else’ in one form or another.

This week you might find that ‘something else’ as we celebrate our Phillips & Jordan Rockin’ Ribfest and the Summer Nights on Main Concert Series kickoff in downtown Williston. The combination of food and bragging rights draws secret chefs to the smoker for a chance at fame. Professional culinary experts are quick to dismiss backyard barbecue brethren with a swift wave of the spatula. Someone at your family reunion throws down the oven mitt and proclaims she makes the best potato salad in the family, while the crazy uncle from Hurley says his rib sauce should be bottled and marketed. A co-worker brings in a dessert dish that brings grown roustabouts to their knees. There is something about food that brings out a little extra in all of us.

The Chamber’s Ribfest is about more than bragging rights. These community events help bring our business community, residents and organizations together to share, laugh, network, compete, shop and relax. The Chamber is very proud to work with the Downtowners Association and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to make Independence Day weekend a place for us to come together – as a community.

Enjoy the food, the fun, the music, family and friends this weekend and be smart and safe when celebrating America’s birthday.

Image result for independence day july 4th

 

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You mean I actually have to GO to the gym to get healthy? But I’m a member…

What do I get for my membership?

Wow, that seems like a big investment!

What have you done for me lately?

Chamber executives and staff continually commiserate together to come up with creative and value added answers for these common three questions. One of the first expenses scrutinized in a for profit business are subscriptions and memberships. They are voluntary, and when it comes to belt-tightening, it’s very easy to ‘non-renew.’ Let’s compare a Chamber membership (completely voluntary) to a gym membership (also completely voluntary). Just for fun.

Image result for membership

…but only if you use it.

Chamber memberships are paid annually and if not, you are dropped from the list, website, newsletter, etc. (don’t get benefits)
Gym memberships are paid annually and if not, access to the benefits (gym, classes, information) is denied.

Chambers offer various opportunities to network with leaders, become involved in community activities, work with other businesses on events and programs through committees and advocacy.
Gym memberships offers a chance to learn a healthy lifestyle by working with others who want the same goals.

Chambers offer specialized events and learning opportunities, not all of which apply to your particular business.
Gyms and fitness centers offer specialized classes and fitness opportunities, not all of which apply to your particular goals.

Most common reason given for not attending Chamber events (and taking advantage of your membership) – Too busy.
Most common reason for not attending gym (and taking advantage of your membership) – Too busy.

Chambers care if you start to miss events, or decide to let your membership lapse.
The gym doesn’t care if you don’t attend, and will survive without you.

You went into business because you either had a new product or service, or you could do something better that was already being done. That’s your core business. The Chamber’s core business is representing YOUR business, helping you grow, network, learn new things, contribute to the betterment of the community. The way a nonprofit does that is through members collaborating together and having professional staff work on your behalf. Staying up to date with your membership investment allows the Chamber to conduct core business activities, which in turn allows you to do your core business function. Yet we are all working together.

Image result for Chamber membership graphicI could change the oil in my car on my own, but I lack the tools, the time and the talent to do it efficiently. You could hire a lobbyist, event coordinator, community relations coordinator, meeting planner, education planner as well to help grow your business and watch out for your best interests. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be a part of something bigger? Something that has been around since 1907, and does these things as a core business? Of course it does.

But just like your gym membership…you have to use it to get the benefits.

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The Internet will never catch on

I read a post recently about a Newsweek article that appeared in February 1995, just 20 years ago.  Clifford Stoll proclaimed the ‘world wide web won’t be nirvana.’ The ad next to the text was from Newsweek, enticing readers to purchase a subscription in print and digital version. How ironic. Somewhere in one of my online profiles I proclaimed, “The Internet is just a fad.” Of course, I was quite kidding. But how can today’s technology help a Chamber, and can it actually harm a nonprofit?

The Chief Information Officer of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) used a phrase, which I cannot get out of my head:

Today’s nonprofits and chambers must be available for their members – at their point of need.

–Reggie Henry, CIO, ASAE

This concept is key for volunteer, member-driven nonprofit organizations. Continuing to spoon feed standard programs and services, networking and education events because that’s the way it’s always been done; doesn’t make the grade anymore. Volunteer committee members and chamber members are pressed for time and resources; and many times will only make an effort if it fits their own schedules, and they see some direct benefit. Chambers and nonprofits must continually demonstrate value for membership dues, and return on investment for sponsorship dollars.

Savvy chambers will have many different ways to connect with Members including:

  • In-person networking events (Business After Hours)Image result for social media icons
  • Larger events such as community celebrations and business conferences/expos
  • Regular newsletters which cross market other community events and Member activities
  • Quality website with “members only” section
  • Mobile apps so Members can receive text alerts about events, sponsorship opportunities or committee meetings
  • Social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others (like this blog platform)
  • Printed media, articles in the local newspaper and business journals
  • Electronic media including radio and television.

The point is that we reach our membership and future members (there are no “non-members” only future members) in many different ways. And we need to reach our members, customers and clients the way THEY want to be reached, and not the way the organization assumes is best. But does too much reliance on electronic communications, email and social media actually harm a chamber or nonprofit?

Does calling and making an appointment to meet face to face put an organization at a disadvantage? That answer might be different for each type of business. I would argue that in the member-centric, nonprofit world, that face to face communication is more effective in reaching and solidifying your membership base. Bluejeans.com blog claims that more than 90 percent of the message in communicating is non-verbal and body language. It’s hard to look surprised in an email. (Use of emoji is not allowed in business communications). Maybe actually getting up from behind the desk, putting the mouse away for a while and picking up the phone might have some longer term benefits?

As new members walk into our Chamber office, the personal connection we have with that new business owner is solidified by eye contact, a smile and a handshake. We could just blast email every new business in town. However, we’ve seen a marked increase in event sponsorships and attendance due to the personal touch we’ve given our Members- even when we’re calling for membership investments (dues). It helps to be human.

There’s probably a happy medium between meeting your members individually face to face every month to share with them everything going on in the Chamber, and only using electronic tools of the technology world to connect. The challenge is finding the right mix. How do you do that?

Just listen…

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