Tag Archives: Williston

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.
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Fight or flight?

Back in my homeland, a significant drop in the price of milk can throw a damp, wool blanket over an entire town, making it difficult for many local businesses supported by the dairy industry to turn profits in a market controlled by outsiders. Now where have I seen this scenario before?

You can do one of two things. Complain about the drop per hundred weight, which if you properly execute a tonsil-clearing farmer snort while saying it, “hunnert-wate”; everyone will nod in agreement, kick the dirt, and then go about their chores. Or, if you are a generational farmer, in it for the long haul, you adjust your projections, cinch up your overalls, dig in for the bumpy ride and diversify your revenue streams.

The nice lady who cuts my hair over the past two years is a pretty good example of that attitude and gave me some insights into her small business recently. She opened up her salon in Williston (although I prefer to call it a barber shop) a few years back after having successfully operated a similar business in Wisconsin.

During 2013 and 2014, customers were lined up, some waiting for an hour or more to get trimmed and gussied up for another day on the oil rig. She and her sister and aunt couldn’t keep up with demand. Which is pretty good, since they are tucked off the main thoroughfares, and didn’t spend much on advertising. They would close promptly at 5:00 pm, and Mondays just to get a break and sleep. But things are different now. Things are different everywhere. The salon owner told me:

“I know a lot of folks closing up. It’s not as busy as it was in 2014. I could go back to Wisconsin, too,” she said. “Is my business down? Yep. Is it slower? Yep. Am I going anywhere? Nope. I just signed another three year lease. I’ll be here to take care of customers that others leave behind.”

She tells me she’s working harder than ever to be available for her customers when they need a trim, and working past 8:00 pm some nights. It’s not all about just opening the door and hoping to survive the crush of customers day after day. That was before 2015. Now she’s marketing more, encouraging word of mouth networking, and even contributed a small sponsorship to a local race driver.

This is one example of what’s happening all over the region and in our community. We can’t control the effect that a global market hiccup in oil prices will have on our economy in Northwest North Dakota. But we can control how we react. Just like our farmers who have to adjust to the price of milk every so often.

Greek philosopher Epictetus said:

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

I suspect this is harder for some than others. Some businesses will adjust, some will not be able to do so as easily. But with so much of our infrastructure investments now in place, diversifying our economy, adjusting our expectations and riding this period out is more plausible than it was in the 1990’s.

Just because the rate of economic growth is slower, doesn’t mean Williston isn’t growing at all. We’re adjusting to this pace and adapting to the ‘new normal’ just fine, thank you.


 

Quick Chamber Update:
Jump over to our new website, www.willistonchamber.com to stay up to date on events, new members, and sign up for the weekly newsletter.

Business directories are available – Members get one free, otherwise they are $10.

ShamRockin’ the Bakken – Taste of Williston event on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Check out Facebook to keep tabs on which Williston restaurants will be featured, and where to get tickets ($20 each), and follow our Taste of Williston mascot, Fergus, as he visits local businesses before March 17.

Level UP 2016 Chamber Business Conference – The premier business event of 2016 in Williston, May 11 at The Well at Williston State College. Come hear Inc Magazine columnist, entrepreneur and author Norman Brodsky as the keynote as he highlights his career and talks about ‘Street Smarts’ his book. Interact with key business leaders and network with like-minded individuals to learn sales techniques, media tactics for your business, fitness in the office and business tech applications to help you grow your business AND your career. Sign up now!

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Make a real difference; run for office

“Honey, you should run for the school board and fix that mess!”

“Martha, instead of griping about the issues, why not just run for office yourself?”

“Hey, Joe, some of th’ guys were talkin’ and think you’d make a good candidate for the legislature.”

As a student senator in college, we’d sit in the student union over an Old Style (maybe more than one) and figure out which city council member or county board member was going to retire. Then we’d crank up the campaign machine to get one of our better looking student friends elected. Sometimes it worked. That was pre-social media and pre-internet, and pre-stone age. Campaign stone-flyers, the original tablets, were dragged from cave to cave via woolly mammoth. Lol.

Recently, the Williston Herald ran a story on the offices up for grabs this year. (In the digital world, they call that ‘click bait). The basic process of running for local office (town, school district, city, park board, county) is fairly straight forward. Get the proper number of signatures for the proper office, and get on the ballot. And it’s free. That’s kind of cool, actually. I’ve known 18 year old mayors, 22 year old state legislators, and 30 year old congressmen. There aren’t too many barriers to getting on the ballot, save for a felony maybe.

Incorporating your true political sagacity, there are practicalities you should consider, like, you know, life. Can you devote enough time to do what is required to properly represent your interests or district? Are there issues you are more interested in than others? Is there an open seat, or how many votes or dollars will it take to win?

Although it might be fun; generating tweets, comments, shares and likes via social media doesn’t really count as making a difference.

For what it’s worth, there’s really only one consideration that outweighs all the others:

Do you want to make a real difference?

 

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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.

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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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The Race for Relevance

Last week we formally announced our 2016 Williston Area Business Directory project. The objective is to produce a directory of local businesses whether a Chamber Member or not; do some strategic advertising, and make it a relevant tool for the community. In the first four days of announcingDraft cover it, doing a little radio spot, and meeting with some businesses, our inboxes and phones have blown up! I think we might be on to something.

2015 Membership web badgeThe race for relevance is a phrase coined by nonprofit gurus and memorialized in print. That relevance is in the eye of the member. For some, Chamber membership is a stamp of loyalty and support of the business community – telling your customers and employees that you are here and part of the community. For other members it’s more of ‘what do I get for my investment’ mentality. Yet, for some they view their membership from a standpoint of ‘what can I accomplish by partnering with the Chamber, and how does that help my business.’ We’re looking to move our mindset more toward the latter.

The 2016 Business Directory is allowing us to partner with Chamber members by giving them exposure in a resource that everyone will want to have on their desk or in their truck. The project is also giving the Chamber exposure to non-Members (called future members) and demonstrating our relevance to the city and to the business community.

We’ve finally gotten on the road to relevance and are rapidly gaining ground; now we’re looking to win the race.

Today’s random pic comes from the 2015 Chokecherry Festival at Harmon Park last Friday.

North Dakota's own Tigirlily perform at Harmon Park for fans under a breezy Williston evening.

North Dakota’s own Tigirlily perform at Harmon Park for fans under a breezy Williston evening.

 

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With wind filling our sails, Chamber continues moving forward

Following our successful Rockin’ Ribfest community event, the Chamber has taken the past three weeks to reassess our program offerings for Members; both revenue generating events and educational programs that may or may not benefit the bottom line.

Successful event momentum is like a warm shower; it feels good for a while, but at some point you have to get dressed and get back to work. Eventually you have to decide to either cruise for a while in the humid summer breeze, or grab an oar and start rowing. For the Chamber, we’ve studied the charts and adjusted our heading a bit as we look to the last half of 2015.

Beginning in August the Chamber will begin to assemble the first ever (I’ve used that term a lot this year) Williston Area Business Directory. Using our staff, the Chamber’s position as a resource for businesses in the area, and our momentum we’ve built up the past seven months, we’ll be able to produce a community resource that’s sorely needed. While all Williston area businesses will be invited to be listed, the advertising spots and most visible placements will be offered to Chamber members first. I can’t wait to see how this turns out. Several local printers are bidding on the project, so I’m confident it will be a valuable local business guide. The goal is to expand the Chamber’s reach and visibility while providing a needed service and product for the business community in the area. Watch for more news and information about the directory in the next week.

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In September, we are launching the Chamber’s Eggs & Issues policy forums. A common program offering by chambers around the country, our Chamber is just picking up the pace in the public advocacy arena. This members-only event will be held the morning after the Chamber Business After Hours – enticing some high level state officials to make a two day visit to Williston. We’ll run three of these in the fall and three next spring.

The LevelUP Leadership Series will kick off in November and feature the hottest topics from our LevelUP 2015 Business Conference last May. The three part lunch series will feature one of our presenters from the May conference, exploring in depth one of the session topics like sales and marketing, human resources issues, or personal growth and development. All of this leads up to the LevelUP 2016 Conference in May 2016, which is already shaping up nicely.

Our monthly Business After Hours events, which traditionally garner between 80-110 attendees, have continued to be quality opportunities for Chamber Members to network, learn, and market to grow their business. Many of the 2016 hosting slots are filling up already.

Please take 30 seconds to take our one minute issue survey this week. The Board of Directors and the Government Affairs Committee thanks you as we start to shape our advocacy action plan for 2016.

The 21st Century (now 15 years old) technology revolution driven by the “millennial” workforce has forced nonprofit organizations such as chambers Image result for millennials technologyof commerce, trade associations and professional societies to rethink their business model and strategic plans. No longer are they the sole source of information, networking, marketing, support and advocacy for their members. It’s crucial to review programs and services, communications and advocacy plans and to ask and listen to members’ issues and interests.

As we continue in our own ‘race for relevance’ with our Members, in the community and in our region, I marvel in the fact that it’s already (or only) been 17 months since I’ve taken the helm at the Williston Chamber. As we chart our course and continue to crew this Chamber ship through both calm and choppy waters, I hope the wind continues to fill our sails and push us forward.

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Summertime is about community

Some observers say Williston is seven months of winter and one month of summer sandwiched in the middle of four months of construction season. Be that as it may, there is a real possibility of snow in late April or early May, so many of the city’s summertime events and activities take a while to get going. I sort of feel like this guy in the Kingsford spot…

There isn’t enough space to list all the community events and activities, groups and organizations that make Williston a great city. For anyone to say ‘there’s nothing to do in Williston’ is just pure balderdash. But one day last week felt a little different to me. A feeling I hadn’t experienced since I landed sixteen months ago.

Ribfest and Summer Nights on Main kicked off July in a way that gave me a familiar sensation; even though it was technically a ‘new event’ and aRibfest departure from the previous two decades of summer celebrations in Williston. Maybe it was the weather, where it rose to 90, then downpoured for 15 minutes and then was 90 degrees again. Maybe it was the heritage downtown businesses who opened up their doors and held welcoming sidewalk sales to eager shoppers who dodged the construction cages (anyone heard of Maxwell Street Days?). Maybe it was the smells, the smiles, the families gathered around the picnic tables talking to each other without the distraction of XBox controllers. Maybe it was the band and the flowing beverages after the last ribs were scarfed down, I’m really not sure.

Looking over the parking lot scene of summer fun, watching the band unload gear, seeing the interaction between the rib teams, sponsors, volunteers and families, I got the sense that I don’t just work in Williston – I live in Williston.

It felt like a community ought to feel on a downtown July summer day. If felt like…home.

I’m not trying to be over dramatic, but there was a true sense of coming together that day between organizations, people, businesses and families. The best part is that there are more of these types of opportunities every weekend and even on weeknights to learn, grow, share, work and play in more ways that anyone thought would happen in Williston. All you have to do is ask, or look around.

The small agriculture hub of Western North Dakota is turning into a thriving economic engine of the energy industry. While those changes are sometimes difficult to swallow, there is no denying that we are in the front row to history. But it’s also nice to know that we can maintain that sense of small-town-ishness when friends and neighbors come together in the summertime.

Just like any hometown should.

 

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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.

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What did you do last weekend?

When I signed up for this tour of duty, I understood exactly what it meant. Dinner meetings, evening speaking engagements, late night business socials, official Chamber Business After Hours events, day long community activities, and working some weekend days. Running a Chamber of Commerce means you are never quite “off duty” in your community. I get that. And I love it.

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This past weekend began on Thursday evening with our monthly Business After Hours, which was not a normal BAH event. The Chamber Member had a street closed, hired a motorcycle stunt team and had a major cookout. Networking, business cards exchanged, introductions of new members, handshaking, taking pictures and raffle drawings make a brief 2.5 hour after work event seem like a full day.

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Saturday we kicked off Lemonade Day 2015, with the best tasting contest as part of the Miss North Dakota social event at the local art museum.  Blue sky June weather always makes a Chamber event better. The Miss ND contestants sampled and interacted with our young, budding business owners, and a great time was had by all. It was truly a treat to have the 2014 Miss ND Jacky Arness visit, along with her southern colleague, Miss South Dakota, Meredith Gould.

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I did manage some ‘non-chamber’ time by helping a friend, Jeff, learn to fly cast. On the spur of the moment, he asked if I would like to go for a ride before the Miss North Dakota pageant. I said, “Sure, who will drive?” He replied, “No, not drive…a ride…in my plane.” So the newest licensed pilot in Williston, ND skillfully treated me a spectacular plane ride over Teddy Roosevelt National Park and part of the North Dakota badlands. My new Nikon D7000 got quite a workout at 3,500 feet above the Bakken. Congrats to Jeff on your accomplishment, and thanks for allowing me to tag along.

After a pinpoint landing in a cross-wind, I had a quick bite to eat, put on a jacket and slid into Row L, Seat 5 for the next 3 plus hours to take in the Miss North Dakota Pageant final evening of competition. I was a bit forlorn about missing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals (those who have read me before, know I’m a hockey junkie) while sitting in the Williston High School auditorium on Saturday night. Last year, as a new Chamber President I attended the social, the breakfast for the contestants, and we hosted a VIP reception to help raise money for the scholarship organization when Miss ND 2014 Jacky Arness, spoke at our 2015 Annual Banquet in January. The Chamber’s ties to the organization are solid, but I still had not attended the actual pageant, so Saturday night was my first.

I left the auditorium around 10:40 pm very much inspired and encouraged, and convinced that of the 24 women who came to Williston to vie for the title of Miss North Dakota, there are future business and political leaders among them.  The evening was a very humbling and warming experience.

Sunday came sooner than I expected, but right on time by the clock. After five plus months of planning, we launched Williston Lemonade Day 2015. It was a  new program, with new volunteers, the first one in North Dakota, and major sponsors looking to us for their return on investment. The day went spectacular, with more than 150 youth entrepreneurs signed up, likely more than 50 lemonade stands in town, and yellow volunteer tee shirts everywhere. We called it a success after the awards ceremony and a great picnic cookout by the Williston Community Builders. Media, local officials and sponsors had big smiles as the lemonade stand owners came forward to get their certificates, or to be recognized with an achievement medal.

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Newly crowned Miss North Dakota 2015 Delanie Weidrich, made her first official public appearance at the picnic and enjoyed the interaction with the young business owners and their families.

By 7:15 pm Sunday evening I think I had only driven about 6 miles all weekend (not counting those nautical knots in the air!) but I felt like I drove across the country. Wiped and sun beaten, I enjoyed a cold beverage at home. And while my weekend could have been considered ‘work’ by some, I view it as just doing our job. Being a volunteer or a staff member of a nonprofit organization like a Chamber of Commerce brings some extra commitments, and certainly can’t be viewed as a ‘normal’ job by any stretch.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Ctl-Alt-Del – Please Reboot 2015

I’m not sure what happened, but I came to the office and found that five months have somehow skirred through the calendar. However June 1 gives organizations and individuals a chance to restart fresh in case things haven’t gone as planned for 2015. In some ways the year so far has been a smashing success. In other areas, we need to hit ‘restart’ and refocus our energies a bit to hit the summer with momentum.

Our Chamber has made some incredible strides the past 12 months. We’ve hit high water marks for activity, attendance and momentum; the Annual2015 Membership web badge Banquet in January; our ‘Bus to Bismarck’ Lobby Day in February; the ShamRockin’ the Bakken Taste of Williston event in March; and the Level UP 2015 Business Conference in May were smash hits. Even our ‘normal’ Business After Hours events seemed to have taken on a flavor of energy, networking and even some fun. The theme for the year “Raising the Bar” has been our mantra, and we’ve lived up to that quite nicely. In most areas.

I would like to reboot our efforts concerning membership numbers, dues investment totals and member touches. It seems we’ve become extremely busy, with marginal results. There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Let’s hit the restart button on that.

Our online presence is nearly imperceptible. That was one of the first ‘to-dos’ I had last year, and it’s still not acceptable. Let’s restart on that as well.

But while I can nitpick, I also am aware of how far we’ve come in just 15 months. It’s sort of like a team that made the playoffs for the first time in a while, but lost in the first round. We’ll get there…

The title of this post wasn’t meant to be a downer, it was meant as a sort of a wake up call. That we’re still operating, but a bit sluggish and stuck once in a while. So by hitting Ctl-Alt-Del we save all the progress we’ve made so far in 2015, but clean out the bugs and get a fresh start.

And the personal resolutions from January are also getting a fresh reboot today. We’ll see how that goes.

-Sjm

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