Chamber Bucks – long history of supporting local businesses

Some of you may be more familiar with Chamber Bucks than others.  The Chamber has been using these for decades to support the local economy.  Chamber Bucks look like and are as good as cash to be spent at local Chamber member businesses.  They are a great way to encourage buying locally.  I have blogged and written about the importance of supporting our local businesses since I started with the Chamber, but I don’t think it is something I will ever stop doing.  It is what the Chamber will continue to promote and advocate for:  Supporting local businesses who support our way of life.  When you buy locally, more of each dollar you spend stays local.  It helps pay the wages of the cashier who helped you or is collected as local sales tax revenue and given back to the community to help schools, roads, police, firefighters, parks, and other parts of the Williston Area that you know and love.

Chamber Bucks

What better way to support this community than to utilize Chamber Bucks – they are like gift cards infused with love of our little part of the world!  With the holiday season fast approaching, think about your employees, your friends, your neighbors – give them Chamber Bucks as bonuses or Christmas gifts.  A gift of Chamber Bucks keeps giving back to our local community even after it is spent!   You are also supporting local Chamber member businesses.  When a business joins the Chamber, it shows they are committed to this community and that they care about the success of the local economy and the events and programs the Chamber provides.  Using Chamber Bucks is a way to say ‘thank you’ to these businesses.

And it’s so easy!  You can purchase Chamber Bucks by stopping by or contacting the Chamber.  After they are used, Chamber member businesses simply return the Chamber Bucks to the Chamber to be redeemed.   But I encourage you to think ahead!  Small Business Saturday is coming up next month.  November 25th this year is the day set aside especially for celebrating and supporting local businesses.  The very ones that you are accustomed to going to for your purchases.  Kick off the holiday shopping season right by getting your chamber bucks now!  Offer them as gifts this year and see how much stronger our community can become!




It’s About Time!!

The Williston Area Chamber has seen many changes over the last decade.  I venture to say that perhaps it has seen more changes than Chambers typically have.  Under the direction of the Board of Directors in 2014, a very solid strategic plan had been put in place.  Its goals include:

  • Strengthen the influence and reputation of the Chamber through bold and thoughtful advocacy and public policy initiatives
  • Develop a compelling portfolio of programs and services to better engage members and serve member needs
  • Enhance the opportunity for building the regional economy through strategic partnerships
  • Structure the chamber for success through organizational excellence

I believe since 2014, the Chamber has done a good job working on these goals:

  • Reestablishing our Government Affairs committee, hosting informative Candidate forums and Eggs & Issues breakfasts, and Legislative days in Bismarck
  • Annual Awards Banquet and Meeting, Taste of Williston, Ribfest, Level UP, Leadership Williston, Lemonade Day, and Business After Hours and more
  • Working closely with Williston Economic Development, Job Services, Williston Regional Economic Development Corp., Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Downtowner’s Association, the Greater North Dakota Chamber and others
  • Updated Chamber By-Laws, Staff and Committee policies, and Board of Directors handbook

They say that a good strategic plan lifespan is only about 3-5 years.  Less than 3 is too short term thinking and more than 5 is unrealistic especially in a rapidly evolving economic environment like ours.  So, it’s about that time – I have been managing the Chamber’s execution of these goals over the course of the past year.  Looking forward to 2018, we want to be sure our ‘road map’ of where the organization is headed is revised to where it needs to be.  Do we need to add a new road or two?  Should we turn around because of a detour?  The strategies and steps we take may, like the roads around here, need to be updated in a new, broader long-range plan.  And it’s at this very time that we rely on your feedback.  The Chamber exists to serve you.  I believe our mission powerfully states our ultimate goal – to champion the area’s united business community.  But how we work toward that goal can always be improved.

I ask for your brief time to let us know your thoughts.  Keep an eye out for our member survey – complete it online or simply email or call the Chamber with your input.  As the Chamber Staff and Board of Directors seeks to update its strategic plan, it is essential to hear from you.  Thank you in advance!


Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Community

This community continues to warm my heart.  It is filled with generous people:  generous business owners, employers, employees and citizens.  People who give of their time to volunteer, sit on boards, serve on city or county commissions, or who donate to the latest fundraiser.

The Chamber’s strategic plan is of course centered around business.  Advocating for businesses and a business-friendly environment and offering programs and services to help businesses thrive.  Commerce is crucial to any community.  It is why I continue to mention the importance of supporting our local businesses (keep your eye out for information on Small Business Saturday coming up soon).  The Chamber helps you highlight your business: we love to mention all the good things happening to our members, especially on social media, plus we have affordable advertising and numerous sponsorship opportunities.   But the Chamber is also about the people and connections.  The relationships you can build and develop by being involved in the Chamber can only help grow your business and you often can’t put a price on that.  It’s the people of this community that make it what it is.  Additionally, a principal advantage our community has going for it is the partnerships.  Ones that have been established for a while and the ones that are developing and growing stronger.  We become stronger when we collaborate.

Last week, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be asked to join a team to run the Bakken X-trek put on by the Williston Parks and Recreation District.  It was a stretch for me to run the 5K and attempt to go through the many (often dirty!) obstacles.  It taught me a few things – or at least reminded me:

  1. You can keep going long after you think you can’t (I blogged about this before but it is worth repeating).
  2. Bruises don’t last long, but the accomplished feeling of completing something does.
  3. I could not have done it without my team. The Williston All-Stars invited me on their team and while I may have been their weakest link, they encouraged me along the way and helped me over some of the toughest obstacles.  An outstretched hand is a wonderful thing!

That last one is most important:  Working as a team and cultivating partnerships in this community is key to our success as a region.

The Chamber partners with Small Business Development Center, Williston Economic Development, TrainND, Williston State College, Job Services of ND, and many others – all to strengthen and unify our business community!  I am confident in our direction.  With the boom, this community was forced to make necessary improvements to roads, water, and other things we often take for granted.  The city and county leaders had the forethought to make sure they considered not just the immediate needs but those in the future as well.  The Lewis and Clark bridge project, water treatment improvements, the new water resource recovery facility, expansions to landfill, law enforcement and fire stations are just a few that have been or will recently be completed.  We are well poised to continue our growth.  Particularly with the new XWA airport project underway.

The Chamber stands for business and we stand for this community.  The Chamber will continue to be the champion for this united business community.


Back to School – Not just for kids…

After a long hot summer, it may seem too early to be getting ready for going back to school, but even the change in weather is indicating it is time.  As a kid, I usually wasn’t ready for summer to end, but shopping for supplies and new clothes (particularly picking out my first day of school outfit) again got me excited.  Back to school is a great time to shop local – check back to our coupon corner often to see good deals in town!

Back to school time shouldn’t be just for kids, college students, or even shopping however important those are.  It is a good time to reflect upon ourselves and/or our employees as well.  It’s always good to learn or have a refresher.  If you follow my blog you know I am a fan of always improving.  I feel this time of year just naturally lends to that.  Which is why we moved our Level Up Business Conference to September.  The Chamber’s conference provides inspirational speakers and hands on education to impact our professional lives.  While you should plan to attend (Save the Date – September 20th), we also understand that this yearly event does not always offer the flexibility for some work schedules nor specific skilled classes that you may need.  TrainND Northwest – the training arm of Williston State College is already well known for delivering instructor-led and online training programs year-round at its state of the art facilities.  Lifelong learning was considered imperative by the likes of Albert Einstein and Henry Ford.  We believe it crucial to success as well.  Which is why, instead of reinventing the wheel, the Chamber announced its innovative workforce development partnership back in December of 2016.


The Chamber Business Academy was born through this partnership with TrainND Northwest.  It allows Chamber member employees to upgrade their skills and improve professionally by registering for TrainND’s courses at a discount.  Classes such as computer software training, professional development, and leadership success are just some of the ones offered with this program.   Come the fall, it will be the 4th quarter chamber member employees are able to take advantage of this benefit.  As business owners in this market, you know the difficulty in finding and retaining good employees.  Giving them the skills they need to succeed and thrive helps create happy and productive employees.  Now more than ever is the right time to invest in your business by investing in yourself and your employees.  The Chamber is proud to be able to help – through the power of partnerships!

Starting in September, you can check the fall TrainND catalog for courses or call the Chamber 701-577-6000 for more information.  Discount applies only to Chamber members in good standing and Chamber members must mention their code when registering.

At age 87, Michelangelo said “I am still learning” May we all continue learning and improving.


Customer Service – Our 2017 LevelUP Focus

There should be a law against working while on vacation.  Yet, here I am doing just that.  It’s because last week, I had a great meeting with our LevelUP keynote speaker, Carol Ritter, while visiting family and friends in Pennsylvania.  She got me excited not only for her keynote on customer service, but with her ideas to make it a memorable experience.  She is a dynamic speaker who will motivate you and your employees and I can’t wait to bring her to ND next month.

Customer Service is pretty high on my priority of skills I look for in an employee and it is something I am constantly reminding my staff.  To get and keep a competitive edge, I truly believe that customer service is very important.  My own opinion is that 1. you need to treat everyone you come across daily as if they are the most important customer.  2. You need to be constantly evaluating how you are doing things and how you can improve.  But as business owners you simply cannot reach everyone so your employees need to be an extension of you.  Which is why the Chamber’s LevelUP conference will be so beneficial.  It has been said that it takes months to find a customer and only seconds to lose one.  And on the flip side, Bill Gates has been quoted saying “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”  Plan to come to this year’s LevelUP to gain valuable insight and skills that will positively affect your business no matter what business it is!

I’m excited about the changes we’ve made to the Chamber’s LevelUP business conference.  First, we’ve changed it to half day because we know how busy everyone is.  Your time is important and we want you to get the most out of the conference yet, still get a half day’s work in as well.  We’ve picked a very important theme (customer service) but also complementing breakout sessions on networking, marketing and more that applies especially to our small businesses but really to anyone.  Plus, we have a fantastic line up, particularly our keynote, that will not disappoint.

So save the date – September 20th – and sign yourself and your employees up early!  Get excited to learn some new skills, improve, and possibly win some prizes – particularly if you are a 1st time attendee to the Chamber’s 3rd Annual LevelUP Business Conference.  Make sure you don’t miss out – for yourself and your business!


Mandatory! Please read to avoid potential penalties for your business…

Catchy title, I know.  I had to make sure I had your attention, but of course I want to make sure that your business does not incur any penalties and interest.  Last legislative session, House Bill 1296 was passed which requires electronic filing for ALL quarterly reports.  Additionally, the bill requires electronic payment of unemployment insurance taxes.  Previously, small businesses (less than 25 employees) were not required to file electronically, but come first quarter of 2018, it will be MANDATORY for EVERYONE.  Since over 70% of our members are small businesses, I thought the issue warranted a blog at the very least.

In the state of ND, by law, employers must pay unemployment insurance for their employees – regardless if their company is actually located in North Dakota.  As long as their employees are working here they must pay.  Job Service of North Dakota has information on how to file and pay your quarterly contribution reports and are encouraging you to begin filing electronically 3rd quarter of 2017.

As employers, you will need to register on the Job Service website on the UI Easy logo and register for a state of North Dakota login and password if you don’t already have one.  Once you file electronically, you will be prompted to pay electronically…hopefully, getting this information out to you early, will help you avoid the potential of penalties and interest.

There is helpful information on their website and you can contact the Williston Job Service Field Representative Lacey Durden.


Reflections on my first year

Three hundred sixty-five days ago today was my first day on the job here at the Chamber.  Yesterday, I was all ready to blog about how the Chamber is advocating and promoting this already vibrant business community but the fire last night took the wind out of my sails.  For those who have lived here longer than I it probably felt even more like a punch in the gut.  The loss of something so iconic and dear to the community will be hard to overcome.

Still I know that, eventually, it will be ok.  Because after a year of getting to know more of the business owners, employees, and citizens of this community I am confident in that.  There is a lot of wonderful people living and working here who selflessly donate their time, talents, and treasures to those in need.  It is a great joy for me to be able to promote that – not only to our area, but to the entire state.

There are so many great things happening in the Williston Area.   Your membership in the Chamber helps us to support, promote, and grow this business community.  The Chamber exists to help connect you, advocate for you, provide education and business development options, and promote you.  There is strength in numbers.  The bigger we grow the stronger we become and that’s why we developed our Member Referral Program.  It’s important that we are all united and working toward the same end…a strong community.

Of course, there will always be struggles, challenges, and changes along the way.  But being a part of something as wonderful as this community makes it all worthwhile because you know your community will be behind you.

It has been a privilege to work for you, our members.  My goal when I first started last year was to get out and meet ALL the members.  One year into it, I haven’t reached my goal….YET.  It is still my goal.  I care about all of you and your businesses and I look forward to meeting those I haven’t yet.   The Chamber exists for you and I’m grateful to be working on your behalf!



It’s a tagline that got stuck in my head when our retail committee started meeting last fall.  To me, it encompasses the Chamber’s mission of being the champion of our united business community and is inclusive to all businesses in the Williston Area.

Now, whether or not anyone uses the tagline except for me is another story.  But know that it is always in the back of my mind.  I hope it can be for you too.  Last fall I wrote a blog about shopping local.  I almost want to re-blog it because it is still true.  Supporting local businesses that employ your neighbor and give back to the community should be our focus.  By supporting local businesses, you create a stronger community.  You have the choice.  Just like Explosive Enterprises owners Adam Natwick and Simon Fisher who chose to donate fireworks so that the people living and working in Williston Area could celebrate our country’s Independence Day with the proper excitement.  It displays what I already know about the businesses in this community – they care.  Who wouldn’t want to support that?

This weekend is our big Rockin Ribfest event – I hope you come out to it.  We partnered this year with members Patriot Productions and Black Magic Harley Davidson along with countless sponsors to create an even bigger event for the community.  In conjunction, area retailers have collaborated to have a clearance event.  I hope you take advantage of the sales and support the local businesses.  I hope that you took my suggestion the other day and supported those businesses being affected by the US 2 road closure – particularly those on Reiger Dr. even if it is a little inconvenient.  And I hope that you think twice about what you purchase and decide to purchase it here.

This community has grown so much over the recent past years.  I’d venture to say that there are many new shops and businesses out there that you aren’t even aware of – or ones that have expanded to offer you more.  You can always check out our member directory online or refer to the retail map that went out in the Herald.  It’s important to patronize our local businesses.  The more you do, the more you’ll see your community flourish.



I am a big fan of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’.  Not because America ever ceased to be great, but because it recognizes a divided county and moreover recognizes that with unified Americans working together we can certainly become greater.  The thing to realize is that if we put in the daily effort, each of us can learn, grow, and become greater.  Asking what else can I do; how can I improve myself and my community will take you to places beyond what you imagined.

One real tangible way to accomplish this is through the Chamber’s Leadership Williston Program.  I briefly mentioned it in my last column but it’s long history is noteworthy enough to warrant more explanation.  For over 20 years, it has shaped not only those who joined the program, but our community and region as well.  Over 170 individuals have been affected by this program and in turn affected countless others.   In a historically ag driven economy, Williston knows how to plan, nurture, and harvest a crop.  The Leadership program proves we can do this with more than wheat.  Most alumni of the program now hold leadership positions in their jobs and in the community.  Many are active on important boards.  They are doing their part to shape our influential part of the world.  Leadership graduates understand when you help others, you better yourself.

There is nothing worth achieving without sacrifice and the Leadership Williston program requires a significant commitment from not only themselves but their employers as well.  The really good news is that Williston employers have consistently shown they understand the bottom line value to dealership development.  The program, open to all, consists of 13 sessions from October through April, as participants learn the ins and outs of our community in a hands-on way.  Each participant is required to complete a service project.  Past projects such as Downtown Beautification, Frisbee Golf course and Dog park at Spring Lake Park, and Marketplace for Kids are still being utilized today!  It’s like the pay it forward concept.  It can’t help but breed progress.  It’s a fantastic program – I encourage you to consider it or if you are an alumnus of the program – encourage someone around you to apply.  Don’t just take my word for it – it’s fairly easy to find a graduate of the program to ask them how they were impacted.  You can always contact the Chamber with any questions.  Applications for the program will be available next month.  My only regret is that we cannot allow more people in each year.

“Good Leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”  John D. Rockefeller

Our community is what we make of it.  Let’s make our community not just great – but superior.


Evolving Community, Regional Front-Runner

The perception of Western North Dakota from outsiders is vastly different from reality.  Even from our ND neighbors in the East.  I wrote about this before how people don’t really understand this until you are here.  The inaccurate national news media frenzy of the boom fueled this misunderstanding.  Once you are here, however, you meet the people who have made this their home.  They are hardworking, caring, and survivors.  Harsh winters and summer mosquitoes are not easy to live with, yet, we are stronger for it.

The activity level is on the rise.  The change is palpable.  Not just structurally with all the infrastructure projects around the area but with the anticipation of the future.  This past Wednesday the city hosted the second public meeting regarding the new airport project and the Sloulin Field redevelopment.  Both of these projects are crucially significant to our regional economy moving forward.

The new airport will be a not just be a nice convenience for travel – able to offer the region closer and easier options to people visiting here and for visit others.  It will open up a wide variety of economic options that up until now, have not even been imagined.   The Sloulin Field site offers prime space in town that will be available to provide amenities, services, commerce to meet the growing demand.

Thanks to the leadership at the city, county, and state level all working hard on our behalf, this is now a reality…coming to fruition within a few years.  At the same time, it is a model for a growing community for the next several generations.  The engagement of our youth and different leaders now is critical to help ensure the community continues to grow and thrive.

To this end, the Chamber’s Leadership and Education committee provides opportunities for both youth and people in this community intended to form leaders in our community.  You may not be involved directly with the Lemonade Day program, Leadership Williston, and others but in your own small way you can be:

  • Come out around town on June 17th and visit some lemonade stands to support our budding entrepreneurs.
  • Learn about all the great work being done around this community at our non-profit expo in July. Perhaps your or your business wants to give back or support them with your time as a volunteer.
  • Think twice before you order something online and see if you can get it here at a local business. Support those businesses that support our economy and our community.
  • Consider your friend, neighbor, kids or grandkids that have the potential and drive to become our next group of leaders. Maybe they could benefit from either Lemonade Day or Leadership Williston and encourage them to get involved to shape our future.

I know I’ve said it before, but it’s still true:  This is an exciting time to be living and working in the Williston Area.  This is a fantastic community and I am grateful to be involved!


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