January 16, 2013

Sanford hired as Chamber of Commerce executive

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Like many entities in the Watford City area, the Watford City Area Chamber of Commerce has had to adjust to a changing, growing and developing community over the last two years. In order to do more than react to what has been going on, the Chamber has restructured itself in hopes of harnessing that change and turning it into a binding element for the betterment of Watford City’s future.
According to former Chamber President Kristin Bolken, over the last two years more and more businesses have opened within the Watford City city limits, yet the Chamber’s membership does not reflect that increase. Therefore, businesses are moving into the city, hiring, and in some cases housing employees, yet they are not connecting to the community. And, if people are not connecting to the community, they are not investing in it.
“As the community grows and expands, we need an entity that can act as a cohesive element to bring these different companies together and better connect them to the community as well as connect the community to them,” states Bolken.
In light of this growth and disconnect, the Watford City Area Chamber decided something needed to be done to help cross-sect Watford City area businesses with each other and the community. In evaluating the Chamber’s best options to accomplish that goal, the board decided that the Watford City Area Chamber needed a full-time Executive Director and they needed to be more accessible.
As of Jan. 4, Laura Sanford was hired as the Chamber’s new Executive Director. And according to Bolken Sanford was the right person for the job.
“The Chamber was thrilled when Laura agreed to come on as our full-time Executive Director,” states Bolken. “She was a clear choice to help grow the Chamber.”
Sanford states that Mary Gumke has been the Chamber secretary for some time and will continue on in that position and Brian Huskey will take over as this year’s Chamber president. In addition to hiring a full-time Executive Director, the Chamber also added two board positions in the restructuring process, all of which Sanford and Bolken believe will prove necessary.
“One of the first things people do when they are moving to a new area is check out the Chamber of Commerce website to see what is there,” Sanford states. “People need a way to connect with Watford City; not just businesses, but organizations and clubs as well.”
Sanford states that Watford City needs a central entity that communicates with businesses, the city, the county, different civic groups and people, and the Chamber is the logical entity to step up and become that ‘glue’ in the Watford City community.
“The Chamber will serve as a liaison between the city, the county, the EDC, the tourism board, area businesses and residents. It will become a focal point for the community, which will allow them to connect people to the community and vice versa,” states Sanford.
In her first year as the Chamber’s Executive Director, Sanford hopes to double the chamber’s membership as well as set up a store front type office that will make the Chamber more accessible to residents and businesses.
“As it is right now, we have the Chamber phone and a website, so people don’t always know how to get a hold of us, especially if they are new to the community,” states Bolken.
According to Sanford, an office location would help the Chamber become that connector for businesses and people, by making the Chamber accessible.
“With a store-front office, people can walk in and reach us,” Sanford states. “We can then connect them to a business or organization that will meet the needs they are looking for.”
It will also allow the Chamber to promote and facilitate networking among its business membership.
In fact, Sanford wants to encourage local business networking so much that the Chamber will begin hosting a Network Luncheon once a month for all its members.
On the first Tuesday of every month, the Network Luncheon will allow businesses to get in contact with other local businessmen and owners, share what they do, and services they provide.
At the start of this year, the Chamber began using an office space in the basement of First International Bank & Trust. The office space is currently being rented by Cascade Homes, who allowed the Chamber use of that space until their store front concept got off the ground.
“The office space is Cascade Homes’ donation to the process, and will be a big help in getting us started,” states Sanford.
The Watford City Area Chamber of Commerce office is located at 100 North Main Street, Suite 2. For membership information, Sanford can be reached at the Chamber office, or by calling the Chamber at 701-580-1493.