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108 years: Havre's Chamber of Commerce


January 20, 2017

Before there was a Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, more than 108 years ago, there was a business community.

The Chamber, Executive Director Debbie Vandeberg said, was formed because "a bunch of Havre founding fathers felt they needed to organize business."

Former official and community volunteer Toni Hagener writes: "The community of Havre had a chamber of commerce philosophy before the city was ever incorporated in 1893.

"So business minded were the early businessmen that they had two promotional organizations: the Havre Industrial Association and the Havre Business Association. One represented the interests of the saloon keepers (of whom there were many) while the other represented other businesses. The two did not always agree, particularly when it came to hours of operation, but both were active."

Havre Industrial Association amended its bylaws and formally reorganized into the Havre Chamber of Commerce November 1909, with James Holland as the first president.

The goal, the Chamber's reason for its existence, is "to improve the overall business climate for its members through sponsorship of programs which stimulate economic growth and promote civic duty." The ultimate vision of the Chamber is to build a quality community.

The Chamber is involved with planning, projects, festivities and even policies, throughout the year.

The Chamber celebrated its 108th luncheon meeting, at the Duck Inn. This year, the meeting featured guest speaker Big Sandy organic farmer and entrepreneur Bob Quinn.

In February, the Chamber help hosts the 9C basketball tournament.

"We help find all of the volunteers that work that tournament, as well as sponsors to host the hospitality room for those four days of boys and girls basketball," Vandeberg said. "So most of the folks that come into town for that tournament usually shop here."

The tournament, she said, helps drive the economy - "people eat at the restaurants and they shop in the stores, and that's kind of what we're all about" - and it's especially important because it happens during a time of the year when tourism isn't so hot.

Planning for the summer starts in April.

Sounds on the Square, which starts June, is one such event. Local bands rotate performances Wednesday evenings throughout the summer in Town Square.

In July, people can start buying local produce, homespun crafts and baked foods every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to noon at Saturday Market in Town Square.

September is a busy month for the Chamber, mainly because Havre Festival Days happens the third weekend.

"The Chamber is kind of the key organizer and facilitator of that event," she said. "The events we are responsible for is the community parade on Saturday, we do the craft show, and we help with the fun run and walk."

It takes about 20 people to help with the parade Saturday morning, she said.

"So we're always in desperate need of help to make that event happen," she said.

Christmas planning begins right after Havre Festival Days.

Between the Christmas Tree Lighting in Town Square and the Santa Run, there is much work for the Chamber during the end of the year holiday season.

In 1995, the Chamber partnered with Montana Power Co., now NorthWestern Energy, to power 45 poles in the downtown area. In 2000, the Chamber raised more than $4,000 to refurbish and buy more holiday pole decorations. Twenty-one candy cane ornaments were bought to decorate First Street in 2009 after the Chamber raised $3,600. In 2013, 1,000 LED lights were bought to hang on the pine tree planted in Town Square for the Christmas season.

The Chamber puts a lot of emphasis on decorating Havre during the holidays.

"We power wash the poles, change the light bulbs, the city puts them up, NorthWestern Energy decorates the tree, we organize the music, Salvation Army comes with hot chocolate - most of what we do is we're a facilitator, organizer of a lot of activities," she said.

The Chamber also has policy interests that would improve the economic climate of the area, such as expanding the hours of the Wild Horse Port.

Vandeberg said the 24-hour Port of Sweet Grass has benefited the nearby border town of Shelby and would do the same for Havre with the Port of Wild Horse north of town.

"Mayor Bob Rice and I went to Canada and said, 'We need to get this port open longer,'" she said. "We've been through several test pilots where the port is open from March to October. ... We've seen great growth, but the dollar exchange rate has caused a hiccup."

That project is still on the Chamber's radar.

Advertising is important to the Chamber.

"Our tourism committee and Havre tourism business improvement district are in partnership," she said. "We're going to meet this month and start planning that spring summer marketing plan, which also extends into North Dakota area - a lot of folks heading to Glacier come through town, so we try to catch them with advertising."

The Chamber also partnered with the Montana office of tourism on some summer promotions.

Historically, Vandeberg said the Chamber also supported efforts such as the creation of Beaver Creek Park, and lent support for development of Fresno Reservoir.

"If the Chamber of Commerce, which is an organization of business people, says they support something, that adds weight," she said.

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