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Belle Fourche Chamber Broke, Two Years After Ousting Good Director

What happens to a Chamber of Commerce when it caves to local politics, fires its ambitious and effective executive director, and lets the city kick it out of a highly visible and profitable tourist attraction that the Chamber built?

In Belle Fourche, it ends up broke:

Monday, Chamber President Mark Reese requested operational financial assistance from the city of Belle Fourche to keep the doors of the chamber open. He said the chamber needs funds to meet its 2015 obligations and for the upcoming 2016 year.

“So if you look at our balance sheet it doesn’t balance. It shows that we are insolvent, which I believe we are,” Reese said.

Reese said that a great team of volunteers keep the office open Monday through Friday, answering phones and greeting clients, the things you would expect of a chamber of commerce. He said the number one thing that is important to the current membership is having someone from the chamber work with them. Because that hasn’t been happening, memberships have declined, and memberships are the entity’s sole source of income. He said they need to hire a director that will be out in the community working with the chamber members.

“We have come to the point where we are not going to be able to continue if we don’t have some form of assistance,” Reese said.

Reese reported that the chamber’s cash in the bank is $300, cash on hand is $250, and the accounts receivables as of July 27 are $1,500. Their expenditures are $15,000. He said they into this year carrying over $8,000 to $9,000 in debt. In addition, Reese reported that they have fallen behind on the rent for the office. The rent is $700 a month including utilities [Karla J. Flak, “Belle Fourche Chamber ‘Insolvent’,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2015.08.05].

The Chamber appears not to have hired a replacement for Teresa Schanzenbach, the exec they canned in October 2013 after fourteen years of positive hustle on behalf of Belle Fourche. The rival Center of the Nation Business Association continues to coordinate local events, but their online apparent online presence, their Facebook page, offers no names of folks interested parties should contact. I wouldn’t know how to reach CONBA by phone or mail if it weren’t for their listing on the Chamber’s website. CONBA’s president is Stacey Raisanen, whose husband Greg Raisanen was among the Belle Fourche City Council members who questioned Schanzenbach’s performance and pushed to sideline the Chamber.

A Chamber of Commerce works with effective leadership and community backing. The Belle Fourche Chamber appears to have neither, and their bank account reflects that.

 

18 Comments

  1. Paul Seamans 2015-08-09

    Most Chambers of Commerce are shills for big business. The US Chamber of Commerce has a facebook page that is an advocate for the fossil fuel industry. When the Dept. of State had a hearing on the Keystone XL in Pierre the Pierre Chamber of Commerce testified in support of the KXL even though Pierre is no closer than 50 miles to the pipeline. I have no respect for this organization.

  2. leslie 2015-08-09

    the chamber probably deserves investigation for its well known republican bias, or has already had it, i suspect.

    but it really does raise the bigger issue of red/blue politics that are so divisive. if we can’t fix money in politics and the deep divide between the 1% and the 99%, the haves and the have-nots, the religionists and the not-so-much, and the “cowboys” ( 2nd amendment advocates) versus the pacifists, we are destined to destroy anything and everything that is good about our world and our population.

    now that happycamper has so firmly established (according to wiki/google) that there is only one race-that blacks, browns ect. are a “mere” social constructs and therefore racism is really just whining, at least that has been taken care of. :)

    this is a big complex world that requires philosophers and scientists, education and love, to provide quality life for all, not just those who stole Indian land and resources. I am talking to you Phil Lampert, your Custer County Commission, and those on up the line to Gov. Daugaard.

    EXPAND MEDICAID NOW

  3. mike from iowa 2015-08-09

    Did the chamber give all their money to the koch bros?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-10

    See, Paul, that’s why I feel a little ambivalent when I report on this monkey business in Belle Fourche. I agree with what you say about most Chambers acting as shills for big business and corporate welfare. The national Chamber can go jump in a creek.

    But a Chamber that doesn’t get wrapped up in those Koch-Brothery issues, that just focuses on promoting local business, can do a lot of good for places like Belle Fourche. Local politics appears to have gotten in the way of letting talented, dedicated people do good for the community.

  5. Les 2015-08-10

    Teresa did not allow politics to get in the way of her efforts from my point of view. Something few understand or are capable of.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-10

    That is a rare strength, Les! Such separation should go both ways: a good Chamber director doesn’t let her politics get in the way of helping every business in the community thrive, and I shouldn’t let the political views I share with Mike about the national chamber get in the way of recognizing and promoting the good that my local Chamber may be able to do for my community.

  7. Dana P 2015-08-10

    Teresa was (and still is!!) good people. And I do believe that Teresa, did not let her political leanings have any interference with her responsibilities at the chamber. And like Cory has stated, she was a go-getter! But I do still believe to this day, that her throwing her hat in the ring against Betty Olson (who can do no wrong up in those parts!) was the start of getting her pushed out of the chamber. People who challenge “the good ole boys/girls ways”, just seem to get the short end of the stick.

    I am so glad (but not surprised) that Teresa has landed on her feet. I’m sure she will continue to be successful.

  8. leslie 2015-08-10

    dana-isn’t that the definition of “politics”?

  9. Stacey 2015-08-19

    The mailing address and phone number is on the Facebook Page for the Center of the Nation Business Association and has been since inception. The Association IS a Chamber member and we have sponsored and assisted with various Chamber functions over the years. There is no rivalry except in people’s minds who wish to perpetuate the myth.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-19

    Stacey, I didn’t say there was no contact information. I said you drop one marketing ball by not listing a contact person, telling me right up front who I as an interested entrepreneur will be dealing with when I call.

    Perhaps CONBA is not a rival. The bigger question is why CONBA exists at all. Help us understand what unique function CONBA serves that does not fall within the Chamber’s mission.

  11. Stacey 2015-08-20

    Before my time in CoNBA, the retail group chose to form their own group. The Chamber had a different plan of work and CoNBA has hosted all the traditional events over the past six or seven years, i.e., Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween Parade, Christmas Promotion, among others. The past should be left in the past and we should all move forward in a positive direction. As stated, CoNBA is a member organization of the Chamber. CoNBA is the host organization of the Light Up the Night Christmas promotion on Nov. 27th. CoNBA, Tri-State Museum, and the Chamber are all a part of this year’s Christmas Promotion. We know how to work together and do so willingly and with great spirit. Jessica is the Chamber Board member in charge of the Parade of Lights portion of the evening (November 27th) and anyone wishing to enter a float may contact her via the Chamber website. CoNBA is in charge of the fireworks and horse-drawn carriages. The Tri-State Museum is having an Open House with children’s activities and the fire department is in charge of the downtown fire-pits. I will amend the FB page with the contact information. Thank you for pointing that out from an entrepreneur’s perspective!

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    I’m not sure you answered the question, Stacey. What CONBA activities don’t fit within the Chamber’s mission? What can CONBA do that the Chamber can’t? How is CONBA not simply a duplicate Chamber of Commerce? Why does Belle Fourche, a town of 6,000 people, need what really look like two Chambers of Commerce?

    And from an entrepreneur’s perspective, suppose I’m considering moving to Belle Fourche. Which group should I talk to about the community and possible incentives for coming and setting up shop? If I come and set up my business and I’m being frugal with my resources while I get going, which organization should I join? Which one is better equipped to meet my needs for promotions, networking, and leads? Or, trying to avoid the apparently fallacious discussion of “rivalry,” how do CONBA and the Chamber convince me that they each meet different essential needs for members that should persuade me to invest membership dues and volunteer time in both?

  13. Stacey 2015-08-20

    The fact is, the Chamber abandoned the traditional events. This organization does them. I refuse to air the issues that brought the Chamber to this point. Their Board knows what has happened over the last few years. Teresa is a wonderful ball of fire and it was time for her to blossom somewhere else (as she has!). The Chamber is now regrouping and trying to re-establish themselves. They have had a hard time keeping Board Members as well. Not sure what you want me to say here. We, CoNBA, are not a “Chamber of Commerce” nor do we have any paid staff. We are a volunteer organization that promotes business and community. The Chamber does ribbon cuttings and is getting back on track for being a resource for people interested in the community. Please feel free to come and visit with our Board if you are in our area! Our meetings are the first and third Tuesdays of each month at the AmericInn (unless an event such as voting, or non-quorum would occur).

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-08-20

    Curious: if the traditional events to which you refer promoted the community, I assume they fell quite logically within the Chamber’s mission. Why not just join the Chamber, get on the board, and direct it to return to doing those events? The Chamber may have abandoned certain events, but that doesn’t mean the Chamber can’t do those events. Why form what still sounds to me like a second Chamber, duplicating local booster functions?

  15. Les 2015-08-20

    I think the chambers job is to initiate these events and find groups to take them on, Cory. Seven to nine board members can’t take all that on and see much for results. Economic Dev. Tourism. Santas workshop. Etc. All groups which can handle different elements of lifting a community.

  16. SarahJean 2015-09-16

    Oh my. I’m late to this party, and maybe this post will never be responded to, but Stacey…really? The chamber abandoned traditional events in Belle under Teresa’s leadership? Really? The pivotal partnership of organizing of the Belle Fourche Roundup Rodeo during the 4th of July? The parade? The heart-wrenching 9/11 tribute at the Center of Nation monument in September? The always EPIC (forgive my use of overused slang) Chamber banquet held yearly? I mean…talk about the talk of the town?!?!?

    Not to mention that when Teresa was executive director, she (not alone, but she) spearheaded the resolve to get the funding to capitalize on getting the grants to make the Center of the Nation Monument happen. SOME people made the trek to go out to a random field to take pic at the Center of the Nation, but guess what? A Whole lot more make a point to stop in town to take a picture at the monument. The numbers don’t lie. In the years Teresa was at the helm of the Chamber, tourism numbers in Belle went up DRASTICALLY. There’s a reason she’s an national award winning Chamber Director.

    CONBA is and was a direct attack on the Chamber. More specifically, it was an attack on Teresa. That attack was brought about by a few community members who didn’t like her take on things, and nothing you can say will change it. It was small town B.S. politics at its finest. And you’re right. Teresa is a fine woman who will always land on her feet and do great things for the community she works for. But while the Chamber is sulking at its $250 in the bank, they should never forget that that they chose to not advocate for Teresa to be working on THEIR behalf, and instead chose to listen to Todd Fiero and CONBA and few others, who absolutely wanted her out of the picture. Don’t try to rewrite history. You’re not fooling anyone, Stacey.

  17. Stacey 2015-09-16

    Yes, as to the Visitor Center, Teresa did very well in promoting Belle Fourche. That is not even disputed. There is more to a Chamber. A chamber of commerce (or board of trade) is a form of business network, for example, a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses (including retail). Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community. The traditional events of which we spoke were the ones for the LOCAL community, such as the Easter Egg Hunt (abandoned 2 weeks before the event) and the Christmas promotions. I was on the committee with Teresa and other community members that established the Center of the Nation Monument and know all about the work and grants that went into it. The origination of CoNBA, years before my time with them, was the result of difficulties with the way the things were being handled. We had two different focuses and we didn’t want issues. You may not know the whole history behind it. Hold onto your beliefs that all was well and good up until the day Teresa left. It was not so according to the books. I don’t try to fool anyone. I will not air the dirty laundry of the Chamber either. You don’t know me, nor do I understand why you would say I am doing something I did not do. The Chamber is getting back on its’ feet and CoNBA is one of the organizations who is working with them.

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