MOORHEAD - Shannon Full is quietly getting about the job as the new CEO and president of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.
Like a lot of new leaders, she’s spent her first few weeks gathering information and connecting with the area’s movers and shakers.
The Forum caught up with Full in her office at the Hjemkomst Center a week before Christmas.
With the smell of a Christmas potluck lunch wafting through the Chamber’s offices from a nest of slow cookers in the conference room, she shared some insights into her life, experiences, and what she hopes to do as the chief advocate for the area's business community.
“I’m still learning. That will be a big part of this, just continuing to gather insights. To have this active listening, open ear,” Full said.
The 46-year-old has held leadership positions for several Chambers of Commerce in the last 22 years.
Full got her break at age 23, when the head of the Twin Cities North Chamber (based in Fridley, Minn.), saw her talent, encouraged her and mentored her to take over as head of that organization.
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Five and a half years later, at age 30, she took the top job for the Melbourne-Palm Bay (Fla.) Area Chamber of Commerce. In the years that followed, Full’s led the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fox Cities Chamber in Appleton, Wisc., and the TwinWest Regional Chamber of Commerce (serving 10 western suburbs of Minneapolis).
In those stops, she’s worked with the military, school districts, colleges, universities, city, county, state and federal officials, creating partnerships and working on economic and community development initiatives.
“I’ve had a busy life: my 22nd year doing this work. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be in the Chamber of Commerce industry this long, but I truly am passionate” for this work, Full said.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she’s upbeat for what’s ahead for Fargo-Moorhead.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Full said. ”We’re positioned to do some great things in 2021.”
The following is her interview, edited for length.
Forum: Tell us a little about yourself.
Full: (I’m) married to my husband, Travis. It will be 10 years this year. Two children. My daughter, Finley, is 8, and my son, Beckett, is 5. They go to (Fargo) Oak Grove Lutheran School.
I grew up in a small town in northwestern Wisconsin, so I’m a small-town girl, Midwest girl. Went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, graduated with a degree in communications and business.
I grew up in a family household with a very strong work ethic. So I worked in my grandfather’s machine shop at 13 years old, just trying to help him out and that type of thing. But it’s interesting, anytime I do tours, I can still smell the oil that you make parts from.
What was the attraction of Fargo-Moorhead?
The Chamber itself has a very strong reputation.
Craig (Whitney, the former Chamber CEO and president who died a year ago) left a tremendous legacy foundation for us to build upon. I’m very blessed and honored to follow in his footsteps.
(The) Eggs and Issues (programming) is one that I had heard about long before I came here. The significance of that, the engagement level the Chamber has here is very strong, a strong retention level, those types of things.
I would say the biggest piece about the draw for me for the Chamber is the … creation of Fueling Our Future (an initiative focused on developing the area’s workforce, economy, community assets and quality of life). So, talent and workforce … a very big passion of mine.
So we come to the other draw. Without a doubt, it was the people. Being from the Midwest, you want that Midwest welcoming nature of people. I found that in spades here.
The other thing that was really captivating to us was the diversity of this community. Diversity of industry base, that clearly has allowed us to weather many storms and ups and downs.
I would say the diversity, in opportunities for dining and opportunities for different cultures.
It’s really important to us to raise our children in a very welcoming and inclusive community.
What do you think you can do to improve the vibrancy of this business community?
I love to bring diverse voices together and collaborate and really brainstorm.
I’ve done this in every one of our communities. I’ve mentioned I’m a pretty catalytic leader (with) a very open mind to what partnerships could look like.
My previous Chambers didn’t (initially) have partnership agreements with cities or counties or school districts. They all do now. And it’s something that I find very, very important. What could the power of partnership really do? And how do we convene and bring people together around a common goal, a common mission?
Definitely that common mission is growth and prosperity.
What do you see as the assets of the area? What are the challenges?
Diversity of industry base, sustainability and strength of the economy.
Clearly, our post-secondary and higher education assets of having five universities in one area is a tremendous asset. Strong school districts, safe neighborhoods, safe communities.
As I mentioned, just the strength of the Chamber in general.
The welcoming nature (of the community) is another great asset and strength. I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to welcome us here.
Some of the opportunities of the future are, how do we push the envelope to be more welcoming and inclusive? It’s great to welcome new people to the community on the surface. How do we dive deep into that, to explore what are the social infrastructure assets we have here? How do we help connect people in a deeper way to this community?
We’ve got challenges and opportunities around making sure that we have the (flood) protection needed. … All of the conversations around the (Red River) diversion project and what needs to happen there to protect us for the future.
I think there are challenges and opportunities ... around what growth should look like and how do we have that balance of growth in all of our areas - suburban growth balanced with downtown urban core growth - revitalization of areas that are so important.
And then … how do we really come together as a more cohesive region? (How do we get) our legislative, elected official base coming together in a more cohesive fashion to really advocate on behalf of this region, both sides of the river. How do we bring Moorhead, Fargo, West Fargo together? How do we have that fine balance - and this is always tricky - that fine balance of local image but regional impact?
What sort of opportunities out there do you think can be exploited?
I’m really excited to start to have conversations around public/private partnerships. What could these partnerships look like?
Fueling Our Future I think is going to open up a lot of opportunities for this. I’m excited to meet, for instance, with the superintendents of our school districts, our post-secondary leadership, presidents of our colleges, our city and county administrators, and commission members, to talk about what partnership could look like amongst the Chamber within the cities, the counties, the school districts, post-secondary institutions.
Also, figuring out a way to tell the story of not only the Chamber… but also for other great organizations that are doing this work. How do we be really good storytellers for them as well?
I think the final opportunity … Is to streamline all of these fabulous resources, so we have a better way for people to access them.
What Chamber initiatives do you like and what would you like to see started?
There are a lot of strong initiatives that the Chamber does already.
The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber has tremendous relationships with our local, state and federal legislators. We’ve had great successes looking at pro-business policy. That is a key initiative for the Chamber. It will continue to be so.
The second is clearly around our small business programming. Lots of opportunities here within the Chamber to help connect members with one another (and) help them get connections to other resources outside the Chamber that they need to help drive growth in their companies.
The other is clearly the events. The ability to bring high-quality content, thought leaders, and opportunities to our members through events is another significant strength of the organization.
I would say another strength is this internal team. I am so blessed to have such a professional, dedicated, diverse background team.
(And) Fueling Our Future: this is an initiative that has the opportunity to be an iconic initiative for this region.
What are some examples of initiatives that you might like to be the catalyst for?
Definitely the public/private partnerships.
At my previous Chamber, TwinWest, we were really successful with forming public/private partnership agreements with seven school districts, two post-secondary institutions and numerous cities. All under a collective goal of talent pipeline and business retention. That’s an area I’d like to see us look more at here. … That’s an area I see could easily see transcend into Fueling Our Future.
Has it been difficult to follow Craig Whitney as head of the Chamber?
(I’m) blessed to follow a tremendous legacy leader like Craig. I think that ... his vision in some ways has made it very easy to pick up that vision, but it has also put a tremendous amount of pressure on me because it’s a big responsibility. I’m looking forward to that challenge, but I will say that I think the other thing that I quickly saw in this community, is the understanding from everybody that I will bring new ideas and new philosophies, and that openness to looking at those.
I couldn’t ask for a better position to be in, coming in to follow somebody that really poured his heart and soul into the community and this organization.
Is there anything else you’d like to get across to people?
I think just a sentiment of appreciation and gratitude for the search committee and for my staff, and really for the community for the warm welcome we’ve received so far. But also for entrusting in my leadership, and my passion, and my expertise that I bring to this region. I truly am really excited to work in a very collaborative, collective fashion with the community.