Hulett: The Chamber of Commerce merits larger accommodations
"The Moorhead City Council and Mayor Lanning deserved enormous credit for their timely cooperation to provide the best office solution back in 1998," writes Forum columnist Mike Hulett. "Now it’s time for the Fargo City Commission to move our Chamber headquarters to the next level."
In 1998 the Fargo Chamber of Commerce was recruiting a new president/CEO. Board members recognized an opportunity to approach their counterparts in Moorhead to discuss the advantages of forming one community-wide Chamber.
Forum Communications Company offered the parties its boardroom for confidential discussions. It was immediately noted that many businesses inefficiently held memberships in both chambers. The two organizations were duplicating multiple functions. The potential for a higher level of chamber excellence was obvious to those of us at the table.
Moorhead Chamber leaders cautioned that some of our members feared a merger would simply result in a larger Fargo Chamber with Moorhead becoming the neglected kid sister. Legislative lobbying might be focused primarily in Bismarck with minimal efforts in St. Paul. We ultimately agreed one chamber would effectively and efficiently provide members with services far more enhanced than previous individual efforts, including lobbying at both legislatures.
A merger proposal was hammered out and the membership of both chambers decisively voted approval. A joint committee was formed to hire a president/CEO and develop a business plan. Two truly outstanding chamber staffs joined as one to begin developing fee schedules, programs and activities.
The number one task was finding a suitable office location. Fargo and Moorhead Chamber quarters were far too small. Due diligence required locating space at the most favorable cost. Multiple possibilities were identified but the committee felt the ideal site would be close to the Red River in Moorhead to assure Moorhead businesses they would not be forgotten. It was already agreed that the first board chair would be from Moorhead.
The city of Moorhead was in the midst of expanding the Hjemkomst Center. Mayor Morrie Lanning was approached by the committee to see if the City could amend that contract to add another new wing to house the Chamber right there next to the river. The City Council said yes and stepped up with the most cost effective lease proposal. The Fargo Moorhead Chamber of Commerce office was soon under construction.
The merger indeed resulted in much better lobbying efforts in both Bismarck and St. Paul. Moorhead members were never left in the dust. Our Chamber became the largest in Minnesota and North Dakota and, thanks to an incredibly talented staff, has often been recognized for providing innovative, award-winning services for all of its members.
Twenty-three years have passed. The Chamber experienced significant growth as regional businesses developed and the West Fargo Chamber merged in. Additional staff space has been greatly needed for a long time.
The Moorhead City Council and Mayor Lanning deserved enormous credit for their timely cooperation to provide the best office solution back in 1998. Now it’s time for the Fargo City Commission to move our Chamber headquarters to the next level.
A much larger office with abundant meeting space constructed in an ideal location next to the Convention and Visitors Bureau will enable the Chamber to continue first class services for its members throughout the region. Your turn, Fargo. Make it happen!
Hulett is a regular contributor to the opinion page.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.