President’s Outgoing Address

    The last two years have been a real challenge for most of us, personally and professionally. We dare to hope that our businesses will finally “get back to normal,” that the weight of uncertainty will be lifted, and we’ll have a clear vision of the future. It’s important to remain optimistic, but the reality is that 2022 is still going to hold a certain amount of volatility for most business sectors, and learning to live with COVID is now the new normal. Nevertheless, the pandemic has also created some opportunities, and I’m proud of how our chamber seized those to grow our organization and help our businesses thrive in these turbulent times.

    Partnerships became essential this past year, and one of our chamber’s most visible projects was the travelling billboard made possible by a collaboration with W&A Distribution Services. W&A loaned the chamber a semi trailer, which we wrapped in a giant image of Fort Atkinson, and a special url which directs people to the largest employers and tourist attractions in our community. This was a forward-thinking way to both promote Fort Atkinson and recruit potential new employees to our area.
    Another partnership with Blodgetts Garden Center resulted in two evening farmer market events, attracting vendors and customers we don’t normally see at our Saturday morning markets. The Dwight Foster Library also collaborated with the market to provide space for a children’s garden, where kids could grow and harvest their very own vegetables.

    As COVID threatened to shut down large gatherings, our chamber partnered with the Fort Atkinson Summer Charity Concerts, the city, and area businesses to create a full day of outdoor musical entertainment where people could safely enjoy themselves. The chamber also live-streamed the holiday parade for those who couldn’t attend in person.

    Additional partnerships with local businesses and sponsors resulted in a successful Manufacturing Month, where students got to see the inner workings of these vital businesses, and vote for “The Coolest Things Made in Fort Atkinson.” And finally, the chamber created an online portal for gift certificate purchases, selling over $200,000 in 2021. This is all money that gets returned to our local business community, and especially our retailers who need us all to be thinking and shopping locally.

    In my June address, I credited our chamber with “fortitude;” known as the ability to encounter adversity with tenacity and courage. I wish to thank all of YOU for your fortitude, and your ongoing investment in our business community. Your support, ideas, and engagement are vital to the success of this organization. May 2022 be a hopeful and prosperous year for all of us.

    -Mike Ehlers
    2021 Chamber Board President