Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Olson talks about first months as head of Chamber

 

October 23, 2017



Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Olson spoke to the Pachyderm Club in the Vineyard Room of the Duck Inn Friday about her first few months on the job and her ideas for the Chamber going forward.

The Chamber’s Board of Directors hired Olson in July to take the position left vacant after the retirement of former Chamber Director Debbie Vandeberg.

Olson said that when she learned that the Chamber needed a new executive director, she thought the position was her dream job.

“It’s been fun; it’s been a lot of learning,” she said. “You know, I still got a lot to learn, but it’s been neat.”

She added that when she took over as executive director, she did not realize how many committees the Chamber has.

She said one of the committees, the Agriculture Committee, organizes the annual Field Day at the Northern Agriculture Research Center. The Agriculture Committee, she said, is probably the easiest committee and doesn’t need money.

The Chamber’s other committees also include the Chamber Ambassadors, the Athletic Committee and  the Tourism Business Improvement District or TBID.  

The Chamber will soon start its Leadership High School program, where 20 high school juniors are selected for a program that focuses on team building, problem solving and decision making, Olson said. The first two days of the program  will be a retreat for the members. She said that a few days ago, the man in Great Falls who has put on the retreat for the last 18 years canceled. After scrambling to make other arrangements, she called her oldest daughter, a high school biology teacher in Texas, who has taken seminars in leadership, to come to the area to put on the two-day retreat.

“I’m anxious to be a part of that program, it sounds like a real good one that the Chamber puts on,” Olsen said.

The TBID collects money generated from a $1 tax at five hotels in the area. The TBID board has seven members, Olson said. Members decide where the funding will go. Funding is used for advertising and to find other ways to attract people to Havre.

Olson said she wants to attract more conventions to the area.

The facilities are available in town to hold the conventions, she said, so there is no reason organizations like the Lion’s Clubs of Montana couldn’t hold their conventions in Havre.

As the holiday season approaches the Chamber will hold the annual lighting of the tree on Town Square, Lunch with Santa and the Santa Run.

Olson took the helm at the Chamber shortly before Havre held its annual Havre Festival Days celebration in September. She said she was able to get through the weekend of festivities without too many problems.

“It was quite interesting, being in the back of the parking lot at the High School getting people to go the right way to line up for the parade,” Olson said.

She said she received many compliments for her handling of the Festival Days celebration. In addition to the parade, festivals include events like the arts and crafts sale at Holiday Village Mall, the Steve Heil Memorial Car Show, Rock Lotto, the quilt show, and distributing mugs and buttons for the weekend of activities.

Olson said Shari Robinson, the Chamber’s longtime secretary, has been a benefit.

Olson said many people approached her to ask that she change the route of the Festival Days parade, so that  it goes into the downtown area.

The Chamber has a Business Development Committee that she thinks has “gone off the rails,” Olson said. She said she thinks the Chamber will try and regroup the committee and have it meet quarterly but maybe bring in a tax expert or financial advisor who can help businesses in town.

Olson said her pet project for next year will be an ice fishing derby toward the end of January. She said the Chamber’s Ag Committee used to organize it, but that it went down the wrong path. She will put on the revamped derby with her husband, who she said is “the ultimate fisherman” and a member of the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited.

Olson said they will get a committee together. The derby will either be at Fresno Reservoir or Beaver Creek Lake, depending on ice conditions.

This year’s Sounds on the Square concert series and Saturday Market, both weekly events during the summer months that are put on by the Chamber, were hugely successful, Olson said.

Olson said that this September, she went out to Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and spoke to the Chippewa Cree Business Committee during their September meeting to introduce herself. She thanked them for the money and business they bring to Havre and the gift certificates they buy, she said.

The Chamber’s annual Christmas Cash, where people can take out no-interest loans to use with participating Chamber businesses, will get underway Nov. 1, she said.

As executive director of the Chamber, Olson said, she was asked to be part of the Wild Horse Border Committee, which is made of representatives from both the Havre area and Medicine Hat, Alberta area, who are looking at making the Port of Wild Horse a 24-hour commercial port of entry.

She said a letter has been drafted and signed by members on both sides of the border calling for the port to be open 13 hours year-round, and have an electronic device that enables trucks to cross the border without having to produce paperwork.

The long-term goal, she said, is to have the border open 24 hours.

Olson said she is surprised by the number of visitors and calls the Chamber office receives.

One of her goals, she said, is to increase membership and recruitment. She said she has a list about three pages long of businesses she wants to get out and see.

Several businesses have recently joined the Chamber, she said.

Improving communications is also something Olson said she wants to do. She has taken over the Havre Area Chamber’s Facebook page. She said she wants to post things such as pictures of the owners of Montana Country Boutique shooting a commercial Friday.

“I am just trying to look around town and snap pictures of things and try and show our members in their best light and things like that,” Olson said.

The website, Olson said, is something they are trying to keep updated.

She said that she also wants to make a testimonial video of Chamber members to post on Facebook. A Chamber app was something that had been considered, Olson said, but Dave Martens told her about an idea that was used in Missoula called Gather Board. The app was used by entities throughout town including the Chamber, schools, colleges and churches where they can login and post their events. The program allows every event for the whole town to be viewed in one place. Participation is $600 a year. she said. Olson said she is  going to try to get the funding for that.

“So I think that is a go,” she said. “So I think that really sounds like a good one.”

Olson said she is still learning her new position, and would like ideas from people in town.

The Executive Board, she said has been great and she is happy where she is at right now.

Erica Farmer said that the Chamber office could be in a better place such as along Highway 2, which is First Street through Havre, where it is more visible.

Olson said her pipe dream would be to have the Chamber office at the former Arctic Circle restaurant on First Street, but added that she doesn’t know if the Chamber would have the money to make the move. She said maybe they could get a grant.

“Long term, that is something I would like to see,” Olson said.

 

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