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Businessman Dave Baker steps up to leadership role with Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Dave Baker stands behind the bar Dec. 19 at The Oaks in Willmar, one of numerous local businesses he owns with his wife, Mary. Baker will take over as chairman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board next year. The Chamber will focus its efforts on repealing legislation that Baker says was financially damaging to Minnesota businesses. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Dave Baker will use his 12 years of experience as a small business owner to be the voice of the state’s largest business advocacy organization when he takes over as chairman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board next year.

Baker, who owns and operates the Oaks at Eagle Creek, the Super 8 Motel in Willmar and Green Lake Cruises with his wife, Mary, was recently named the chairman-elect of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. He will assume the lead role in September.

“I feel so honored and humbled to lead the organization as a volunteer chair,” said Baker, who is beginning his second three-year term on the board of directors.

His job will include “helping send our message of what the Minnesota Chamber is trying to do” for the organization’s 2,200 members, said Baker.

“We need to make sure our voice is heard of how to maintain a very favorable business climate in Minnesota,” said Baker.

Baker said the Chamber will focus its efforts on repealing legislation that Baker said was financially damaging to Minnesota businesses, while at the same time encourage legislation that will enhance business growth in the state.

He said the 2013 legislative session was “disastrous” for Minnesota businesses, with a negative tax impact of more than $2 billion.

While some of the investments of tax dollars were beneficial, Baker said the Chamber believes legislative groups and Gov. Dayton “overreached more than they needed to.”

Number one on the Chamber’s to-do list is repealing the business-to-business tax.

Baker said the Chamber also intends to keep a close eye on the minimum wage issue. He said moving the state’s current $6.50 minimum wage in line with the federal rate of $7.25 an hour “is something the business community can live with,” said Baker.

“We are very nervous when we hear $9-$10 minimum wages. They are very alarming to the Minnesota Chamber and businesses around the state,” said Baker, acknowledging that the minimum wage issue would hit his businesses’ bottom line.

Baker said the combination of new tax codes and income tax rates, plus concerns about how the state is spending tax revenues, has set the stage for businesses to pull the plug on Minnesota and move across the border to states that are actively recruiting Minnesota businesses with the guarantee of lower taxes.

The Chamber is getting “inundated with concerns from small- to medium-sized companies that are seriously looking at leaving the state,” said Baker.

“We are literally seeing people picking up and leaving,” he said. “Right here in Kandiyohi County, I know personally of six to eight business owners and families that are actually leaving our area.”

He said the Chamber intends to monitor how many businesses are moving out of Minnesota so that information can be given to legislators.

“I know their jobs are tough, but they need to know that they have to improve the state’s business climate in order for us to grow jobs and the tax base,” said Baker.

Transportation and regulatory permitting are also issues the Chamber will continue to watch, he said.

Serving in leadership roles on the state Chamber board will mean more time away from his home and businesses in Willmar and Spicer, which operate under the umbrella of Baker Hospitalities Inc.

Baker said he is blessed to have a supportive wife and good employees at all three sites.

All that will be put to the test in the next week as the bar and lounge area at the Oaks undergoes a massive renovation.

Starting Wednesday, the Oaks will be closed for eight days while Baker and a crew of contractors undertakes a massive, and well-orchestrated, remodeling project, that includes demolition of the current horse-shoe bar, reconfiguring the lounge space and redecorating the entire lounge — including removing the carpet on the walls.

There will be new tables, booths, bar, fireplace and atmosphere, said Baker, along with a new menu of expanded sandwiches, burgers and pasta dishes, and 20 tap lines of the “newest and latest” craft beers.

One casualty of the renovation will be the large fish tank. The new design will not accommodate the aquarium, said Baker.

The work will be “non-stop” so that the bar and restaurant can be open in time for lunch Jan. 9.

This project falls on the heels of a facelift at Baker’s Super 8 Motel, where carpet, window treatments and televisions have been replaced.

He said banks are “starting to talk” to businesses again, which may also be spurring renovations and expansions at other restaurants and hotels in the community.

Baker said efforts to improve the family businesses, as well as his time serving on the state Chamber board and being involved with local organizations that support and educate people affected by drug addictions, is part of helping to make Minnesota a good place for the community’s children and grandchildren to live.

Baker said his business story and desire to make positive changes in the state is replicated by the entire 40-member Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors that he’ll be working closely with in the next couple years.

“There are a lot of Dave Bakers,” he said.

 “It’s our turn right now to make sure the fabric is being laid for the next 50 years of prosperity, clean air and clean water in a very balanced approach,” he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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