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Classic cars along the beach on a warm summer evening: The chamber made this a regular event in DL. Photo by Brian Basham

Local Chamber of Commerce one of the most active in Minnesota

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Detroit Lakes Online
Local Chamber of Commerce one of the most active in Minnesota
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Though they work hand-in-hand on projects and are housed in the same office, the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Lakes Tourism Bureau are two separate entities, with separate boards, separate funds and separate purposes.

The chamber is in place for the businesses and members within about a 50-mile radius, and the tourism bureau exists to entice people from at least 50 miles or more away to come to Detroit Lakes.

Chamber of Commerce

There is no typical day, no typical phone call and no typical question when it comes to the chamber and the staff’s duties. Chamber President Carrie Johnston said she and her staff answer calls regarding anything from events taking place in town to lodging questions to resources for chamber members.

Last year, the chamber fielded 7,000 phone calls, 3,250 walk-ins and distributed 60,000 Visitor Guides, including getting the regional guide into places like the Mall of America, airports around the state, travel information centers and several expos.

It also had 152,000 website visits at VisitDetroitLakes.com, which is also up significantly from 2011.

Roughly 40 percent of those hits came from mobile devices, which is why the Chamber and the Tourism Bureau are teaming up to re-vamp their website, which they share, to create a friendlier layout for things like smart phones, iPads and other mobile devices.

Chamber members benefit from this rise in website visitors, too, as they can get listings on the chamber’s website. Johnston says that’s important, especially for smaller businesses that are just starting and don’t have their own websites. The chamber can give them a web presence without having to design and pay for their own sites when starting a business.

And when someone calls in for referrals to hotels, restaurants, etc., Johnston said the chamber first promotes its members and then other businesses in town that aren’t members. It’s part of the perks of being a member.

There are 475 chamber members, which is up 25 businesses from last year. The chamber’s job, she said, is to support those businesses and employees first and foremost.

By supporting those businesses, it helps keep the town “economically viable” for visitors and tourism. She works to keep her members “in the know” with trends, local campaigns and events.

The DL Regional Chamber is one of the largest in Minnesota. It is in the top 25 for number of members, and the area chamber is also a member of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

One of the bigger projects Johnston and other chambers will be working on this year is its first Tour of Manufacturing, — scheduled tours of five different manufacturers in the area.

“It’s a great way to get people to understand the businesses themselves and also to showcase job opportunities in the area,” said Johnston, who says locally, this isn’t restricted to the growing need in traditional metal stamping and assembly line work, but also business like Lakeshirts and Bergens that aren’t always thought of when manufacturing is discussed.

The chamber is also a part of Grow Minnesota, which provides chamber members with information across the state, not just local resources.

“Being able to (access) those trends is part of Grow Minnesota,” she said.

Also statewide, the DL chamber is a part of Explore Minnesota, which makes it a location for Minnesota maps and a hotline that accesses information on birding, trails and fishing updates.

Networking events remain a priority for the chamber with functions such as Sunset and Sunrise Socials — for members.

“We’re always doing something to get people together,” she said, adding that often times they have more than a couple of events every month.

“We’ve been getting a lot of speakers coming to the area because we’re really trying to give people a lot of opportunity for education and networking, said Johnston.

Any business can be a member of the chamber, with many of them coming from within a 50-mile radius.

Members have the benefits of ambassador visits, groundbreaking recognition and tourism visit support as well — “just to support those businesses.”

The chamber, and its subcommittees, helps with organizing Ag in the Classroom, the tractor parade during the Becker County Fair and a legislative forum. The Promotions and Events committee also takes care of Crazy Days and Light up the Lakes.

Two of the main fundraisers for the chamber are Art in the Park and the shuttles during WE Fest. Not only are the shuttles good for cutting down traffic and parking congestion at the WE Fest grounds, Johnston said they also benefit businesses in town.

The shuttles “get WE Fest people to town to shop,” she said. “It’s good for the town and retailers.”

Chamber officers and representatives sit on many community boards — like the Aquatic Invasive Species task force, working with manufacturing in town and the School to Work Program at the high school.

“We just want to always make sure the business sector is well represented,” said Johnston.

The chamber’s mission, though promoting the city as a whole, is to its members first.

A board of directors made up of 12 community members governs the chamber and oversees Johnston. A third of the board is made up of tourism representatives, a third from retail and a third are at-large.

Tourism Bureau

If the chamber’s job is to support business, it’s the tourism bureau’s job to get out-of-towners to those businesses.

“The ultimate goal is to promote tourism,” Johnston said of the tourism bureau.

The 3 percent lodging tax charged in Detroit Lakes’ lodging establishments goes to the tourism bureau to promote the area and get tourists into town, generating more money for business owners in the county.

That money is mainly to advertise Detroit Lakes to those who would travel to Detroit Lakes, stay at an area resort or hotel, dine in the area and participate in any other area activities. In short, spend money here.

“It is likely that the legislature intended that the (lodging tax) be used in ways calculated to directly attract persons likely to patronize such facilities as opposed to uses which generally benefit the city as a whole,” an explanation from the Office of the Attorney General gave regarding the use of lodging taxes.

So, the advertising dollars are spent in national and regional magazines (including some for Canada) and marketing pieces rather than local pieces.

The tourism board is smaller than the chamber board, with only five members and one liaison from the Detroit Lakes City Council. The mayor appoints, and the council approves, the members of the board, but the council has no control over the board and how the tourism money is spent.

So whether they work together or separately, Johnston said, some of the dividing lines between the chamber and the tourism bureau are gray. But, they are both working for the betterment of Detroit Lakes and the surrounding area.

Article written by Paula Quam and Pippi Mayfield

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