The Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce is in the people business. Half of its budget comes from membership and the rest is generated from programs and events. Due to the pandemic, the Chamber has not been able to offer in-person events and programs which has led some businesses to question their membership value.

In some cases, they conduct a review and determine it is an investment and when things get better, there will be the same opportunities as in the past to be engaged and involved. Others decide not to pay and wait to see how things are next year. Some terminate their membership for reasons unknown other than the question of value.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Chamber membership, and we know this is a result of the economic impact on our members. When businesses have shared with us that they are struggling and are unable to make their investment or make the investment at the same level, the Chamber has worked with the member to help them stay involved in hopes that they will continue their investment when the economy improves.

Ken Warner, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce President
Ken Warner, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Presidentsubmitted
Our Chamber has lost over 70 members in 2020. In my 36 years of Chamber management, I have never experienced a loss so large. An interesting fact to note is that we have not lost any restaurants or bars despite how negatively those businesses were and continue to be impacted by COVID-19.

We hope to gain the lost memberships back in 2021, and continue to show value in new ways. We need to manage the effects of COVID-19 and not let it manage or define us. We are no longer asking prospects to join or pay for membership (which implies that you have to do something to stay active) but rather, we are phrasing it as an investment in the community.

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In my opinion, a Chamber membership is one of the best ways to invest in your community. Chamber membership is a commitment to goodwill, education, and development. We need our investors to continue their membership so the Chamber can continue to deliver the programs, services, and value that our community and local businesses have come to expect and need to rebuild a strong local and state economy.

Through our investors’ participation and engagement, your Chamber can only improve and strengthen the promotion and advocacy for the area-wide business community. Over the past year our members’ financial investments have helped the Chamber help members, non-members and the community:

  • Offer over 70 programs designed to strengthen the economic base of our community, such as Leadership Perspectives, Chamber Connections, and the Public Policy Committee.
  • Provide continuous COVID-19 resources and updates on our website and communications.
  • Assist businesses with their EIDL loans, PPP, and PPP2 grants.
  • Share a Take-Out and Delivery Guide.
  • Distributed over 30,000 masks in Kandiyohi County.
  • Assist local businesses with CARES Act funding through the city and county.
  • Recorded a video in four languages with the Southwest Initiative Foundation that explains the restaurant guidelines to keep employees and customers safe.
  • Continue to advocate for small businesses and shopping local.

In these challenging social and economic times, we are stronger together. Your Chamber continues to be the leader in community promotion, advocacy, relationships, and economic development, as well as the only organization representing business in Kandiyohi County. We have never worked harder for the community than we have over the past year and we will continue to do so. If you are a member, thank you. If not, please give us a call at (320) 235-0300.

Ken Warner is the president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.