Back business, back a better life for all
By Stephanie Klett and Bill Barth
Business is the beating heart of any successful community, pointing the way to progress and prosperity.
Consider just a few basic concepts for how local businesses contribute:
- The most obvious, of course, is employment. When people have local jobs they tend to spend their wages in the area, creating a multiplier effect as each dollar turns over and over across the community.
- Economic activity generated through businesses fills local tax coffers, supporting schools, public safety, roads and clean water.
- Businesses support other businesses, by using services such as accounting, marketing and suppliers – all of which generates more jobs, more wages and more growth.
- Businesses often are among the most generous entities in any community, investing in the public good by supporting charitable causes in many important ways.
This statistic, gathered by the American Independent Business Alliance, describes the scope of how businesses create community prosperity. The multiplier effect – how many times money earned and spent locally circulates and recirculates – amplifies each dollar’s impact by a factor of three.
It’s a good time to ponder the importance of sustaining a healthy business environment in the region with the arrival of Chamber of Commerce Month, celebrated in Wisconsin during September. Visit Lake Geneva takes its role seriously. It’s our job to be there, meeting the needs of entrepreneurs and enterprise by providing critical services that help businesses succeed and grow.
Visit Lake Geneva is best known for its work as a destination marketing organization. Tourism is big business in the region and Visit Lake Geneva connects travelers with the experiences they desire. That effort brings customers through the doors of local businesses and sparks economic activity.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that Visit Lake Geneva is not structured like most convention and visitors bureaus elsewhere in Wisconsin and beyond. In most places tourism bureaus and chambers of commerce operate as two separate organizations. Visionaries who created Visit Lake Geneva believed that, in our unique community, the connection between tourism and business in general was not separate, but distinctly intertwined.
“We’re structured this way in recognition that what may seem at a glance to be dual or separate interests in fact overlap in many ways,” Stephanie said. “That’s why we craft our services to meet the needs of both tourism-related and non-tourism businesses. And it’s why we focus on experiences for visitors that keep dollars flowing through our community.”
In the past two years more than 100 new partner businesses have joined, bringing total membership to 500. About 20% are nonprofit organizations. Retention rates from year to year exceed 90%, when the national average is just 50%.
Christi Hunter serves as Visit Lake Geneva’s Partnership Manager. She credits partners’ “ingenuity and perseverance” for creating enterprises that bring so much value to the community.
“The chamber serves as the switchboard operator for the community, connecting key individuals and businesses to one another,” she said. “By keeping a finger on the pulse of the community, the chamber is the perfect place for these connections to take place.”
Some chamber activities are directly designed to bring partners together for networking and education. There are monthly meetings to encourage outreach. Often, power players such as regional legislative representatives are included to facilitate direct connections. When new businesses join the community, or existing businesses invest in improvements, the chamber sponsors ribbon-cutting ceremonies to create connections and make community introductions.
The work is both rewarding and challenging in the fast-moving world of business.
“Chambers have to adapt with the changing landscape,” Christi said. “Best practices and technology update regularly and we must listen to the needs of the businesses and communities we serve. Our success as a chamber has everything to do with the success of our 500 partner businesses and organizations.”
Wisconsin is coming to Lake Geneva this month to celebrate the role of business.
“We’re particularly proud the Lake Geneva region has the honor this year to host the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Executives Annual Conference, which is scheduled for September 26-28 at The Abbey Resort,” said Stephanie, who is a past board member of the statewide group. “It’s an earned opportunity to showcase our community and all it has to offer to key business groups across the state. This is a high-powered group of people, playing an important role in building economic activity around Wisconsin. We want them to go home talking about what a great experience they had in our community.”
That’s also what chambers do – roll out the welcome mat. Visit Lake Geneva can always count on its partners to be great hosts.
Stephanie Klett is the President and CEO of Visit Lake Geneva, and the former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Bill Barth is the former Editor of the Beloit Daily News, and a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame.