[Intro] Welcome to chats with chambers with your hosts Patrick Kirby and Sami Bedell-Mulhern. Each week we connect and learn from executives of chambers of commerce from across the country. These short episodes will share success stories, challenges, best practices, and tips and tricks to inspire you, and provide resources for hitting your organizational goals. From recruiting new and retaining current members to finding new and creative revenue sources. You’ll hear straight from those leading chambers and communities throughout the US. Chats with chambers is proudly brought to you by the Nonprofit bootcamp. Learn more and check out the show notes for episodes at https://nonprofitbootcamponline.com
[Patrick Kirby] Well, hey, friends, welcome back to another episode of chats with chambers, that really good one for you. And especially if you are new to a role at your chamber of commerce, you’re gonna want to listen up carefully to our next guest here on the podcast, Callie Aschim. She is the executive director of the Helena Montana Chamber of Commerce. Kelly, welcome to chat with chambers.
[Callie Aschim] Thank you so much.
[Patrick Kirby] Very excited to have you on very excited to have your perspective. But first of all, we need to know a little bit about your community that you represent. So can you give us kind of like a 5000 foot view? What on earth is going on in Helena, Montana.
[Callie Aschim] So Helena is our state capital of the state of Montana. So we are extremely lucky. We’re really a government based town, which makes it a really fun and kind of interesting way to do business here because we’re working with a lot of government folks. Helena is also one of the fastest growing cities in Montana. We are surrounded by larger metropolitan areas like Bozeman, as I’m sure most people have heard of Missoula, and those areas are getting, you know, saturated and they’re running out of room. So we’re really seeing Helena become that next best place for folks to move to in Montana. So really learning how to manage that growth. We’ve never seen this kind of growth in Montana. So really learning to manage our growth here. And really work with our members and the residents of our city to manage that process and figure out how we’re going to make Helena awesome, and welcome our new residents, but also kind of hang on to that Montana state of mind.
[Patrick Kirby] I love that that talk to me a little bit about the business side of Helena, Montana. I know it’s kind of very, like you said, sort of politics driven, sort of government driven, but talk to me a little about the business environment.
[Callie Aschim] What we’re very lucky we have a ton of really interesting entrepreneurs. We’ve had folks open breweries here in town. We have wonderful retail stores, boutiques that our entrepreneurs, our local entrepreneurs have opened up. I come from the hospitality sector. I worked for Hilton Hotels for 18 years. And so we are a really tourism based community as well. Helen is located directly between Montana’s two national parks, Yellowstone and Glacier. So we see a lot of traffic in the summers from that. We also do a great job of supporting youth sports. We have wonderful complexes that are we take care of we have volunteers that do a great job managing those. So we have a lot of youth based sports that come through our come through our doors in the summertime as well.
[Patrick Kirby] I find the fact that your background in hospitality is probably the most perfectly suited background to be an executive director of a chamber of commerce, because what is the chamber except for being hospitable? The businesses were goodness, what a transferable bunch of skill sets. And you’re wondering, should I be should I be a chamber executive? Yeah, you probably should if you’re in the service industry that that makes total sense. I love that. Just something that you can tell me about Helena, Montana, that not the average person outside of knowing it’s the capital of the state. What’s interesting, or what’s a cool thing that’s ever happened in Helena, Montana?
[Callie Aschim] Well, what’s interesting to me, I was born and raised in Montana, um, and moved here about five years ago to open a hotel. And the thing that I didn’t realize about Helena is the extensive outdoor recreation that we have. I moved here from Missoula, which is really known for its outdoor recreation, a lot of river sports and that type of thing. But Helena is actually 20 minutes from two major lakes in Montana. So we still have the outdoor recreation. We also have over 80 miles of mountain bike trails here that are completely accessible from town. So a lot of the trail heads are actually one of our major trailheads is right in the middle of downtown Helena. So the outdoor recreation here is a really cool piece that we don’t, or that Hellena didn’t talk about. I think that our tourism group our visit Hellena group is doing a great job of getting that information out there. But that was one thing as a kid born and raised in Montana, I had no idea the opportunities I would have moving here. You know, you can we’ll go camp and we drive back and forth to come to work every day from our campers. So we’re just Super, super fortunate here in Helena to have that kind of outdoor recreation.
[Patrick Kirby] I love that. Alright, so we like to celebrate wins here on chat chambers, we like to brag a little bit about some awesome things. What has the Helena chamber have up in store for like how to celebrate what’s a big win? What’s an accomplishment that you have had that you just want to brag to the world about a little bit?
[Callie Aschim] Well, ironically, it’s our wins program, our Workforce Innovation networks program. Back in 2017, our top investors got together and really talked about what they were seeing as challenges. And back then even pre pandemic, it was really about workforce development, we were having a really hard time attracting and retaining good talent to the Helena area. And so from that we generated a steering committee, I was on the board at that time. And we were very active in a working with our local sectors to bring in different people who could help us with workforce development. From that, we were able to do some fundraising and hire Workforce Innovations director. And so we have a gal that is in our office that is working primarily on workforce development. And this weekend, we had our construction day, which was really to open up the construction sector to local families and kids and give people some interesting ideas of different jobs that maybe aren’t college bound. So we’ve really been working with the construction sector, the manufacturing sector, we have a great partnership with the local vo tech, our Helena College here in town, that is just getting kids the information so that they can start making decisions about their future that maybe don’t include college, or do include a two year degree. And our Helena College has done some great work partnering with our other state university so that we can keep kids in Helena. So you can start working here, different, different companies are paying for your education and you can get an education but also start work right out of high school. So I think our wins program is probably the thing I’m most proud of. It’s really been an organic grassroots effort that we’ve really been able to continue through the chamber. And as we restructured the chamber through this transition of workforce development has really been the piece that we are putting at the top of our pyramid, we’re really going to focus on workforce development, really working with our local high schools, getting kids involved in positions that will help. We’re not going to solve our workforce problem tomorrow. But maybe in three to five years, we’re going to have a really good grasp on how to keep people in Helena because we don’t want those folks leaving our area.
[Patrick Kirby] What I love about this, too, is that you had the foresight to think about this in 2017, before this workforce development, massive issue. So you’ve got a little bit of a head start is good for you. Yeah, things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows no matter how many programs you put together. It’s very frustrating at the top kind of moment where, you know, you’re like, ah, being a chamber leader is really not the easiest in the entire world. So what are some challenges that the Helena chamber is facing? And kind of how are you overcoming that even outside of workforce development?
[Callie Aschim] You know, I think that our membership would say workforce development is their largest challenge. For us. I think membership recruitment and retaining members is probably our hardest challenge. Right now we’re finding that especially post pandemic, people are really watching that bottom line, and sometimes memberships are the first thing to go. So really trying to find a way to communicate that member value to our membership, and creating a way that we’re being a catalyst for really the growth of our Helena community. So I think that’s what we’re kind of tasked with right now is figuring out how do we retain and recruit new members, and really keep those old members interested because we are finding that membership is a challenge for us.
[Patrick Kirby] Yeah, well, as long as you’ve got that as your laser focus, it’s adding value, adding value. I think organically people come naturally because they say, Well, if I can’t afford not to be, remember and speaking up can’t afford to not be a chamber member. Let’s just say that, hypothetically, I’m moving up from Fargo, North Dakota, and I’m gonna move to Helena. I’m gonna move I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna move the business there sounds like a great place. Why should I be joining the Helena Chamber of Commerce? Kelly, give me an elevator pitch on why you join?
[Callie Aschim] Well, I think for us, it’s that workforce development piece, we really opened the doors for a lot of our community to get involved in creating their own pipeline, so that you can you don’t have to rely on a lot of those outside recruitment factors that you’re opening your own pipeline, and we’re helping you do that. We also have a wonderful networking program called Helena Leaders Network or HLN. That program really gives our membership a chance to cultivate young leadership within their program. You know, coming from the hospitality industry and understanding, you know, the need for Chambers of Commerce in our community. My hotel benefited by being a member of the chamber just based on some of the It was that structure, that networking, that professional development, it really made my employees feel that we were investing in them. And it was a complete function of the chamber. So I think being able to offer those programs to our chamber membership gives them an advantage that folks that don’t belong to the chamber. They’re just now getting those opportunities
[Patrick Kirby] sold on put my membership in tomorrow. Can i Hey, I know you have most recently taken this particular, which is, which is a wonderful perspective to have two individuals who are maybe considering being an executive director or chamber leader in some sort of capacity. But even in your short period of time, as an executive director, I’m sure you’ve stumbled across a tip or a trick that you can pass along to people who might be starting on their own chamber leadership journey. Can you give me a tip or a trick that you can say, hey, I want to try this. It worked for me might work for you.
[Callie Aschim] Yeah, I think listening, um, is the biggest thing. I come from a very corporate world and the Chamber world is very different than a corporately managed Hotel. So for me, it has just been really listening and absorbing as much as I can. So that, I mean, I know I don’t have all the answers. I mean, there are days I don’t even know what I’m doing. So I think really listening to your staff and really empowering your staff to help you kind of get through this transitional time is is very important.
[Patrick Kirby] Yeah, it’s brilliant. I love that. You can learn a lot by by not chatting a little bit, even though we’re on a podcast. Yeah, I’ve learned a lot listening to you today. If there is an individual who’s considering not only joining the chamber, but wants to learn more about the awesome things that you and the Helena chamber are doing, how on earth did they get a hold of you?
[Callie Aschim] Well, they can always email me my email see Ascham at Helena chamber.com. And we also have our Helena chamber.com website that has a lot of our membership information. A lot of our members are on that site. So it’s a great way to get acclimated to who is a member in the Helena area and what they are doing. And they’re doing some really great things here in town. And then the other pieces are visit helena.com website that is our tourism based website. And we do run our Convention and Visitors Bureau out of the Helena chamber here in town. And that website has all of the fun stuff that Helen has. And if you you know the beautiful pictures, we have some great artwork, some really fun stuff there.
[Patrick Kirby] I love it. Callie, thank you so much for being a guest today, but mostly your perspective. I love your enthusiasm, your hospitality first attitude is amazing. And really appreciative of kind of the direction you’re taking the creative ways that you’re sort of engaging your members. It’s a really cool reminder that the Chamber of Commerce is the place to be when you really want to make sure that your business gets the most views and sort of looks and and likes will find your chamber. That’s exactly what you’re doing in Helena. So thank you so much for being a guest here on chat with chambers.
[Callie Aschim] Awesome. Thank you.
[Closing] Hey, thanks for listening to chats with chambers. For more information about the chamber featured in this episode or to check out show notes for links and resources. Visit nonprofitbootcamponline/podcast. Hey subscribe, give us a five star review if you liked what you heard and if you are a chamber would like to be a guest on this show. Hey, email us firstname.lastname@example.org Or email@example.com Links in the show notes
Helena is the state capital in MT so it is a government based town. It is the fastest growing city in MT. They are working on the balance of the influx of new people and still maintaining the Montana lifestyle. They have a big entrepreneurship mindset so lots of people open businesses. They are also very tourism based.
They are really proud of their WINS program which is their workforce development program. It was founded in 2017 to work on recruiting and retaining talent to the area. They created a task force to come up with solutions and strategies. WINS also includes resources for youth that might not be college bound to train them and get them into trades and construction.
Membership recruitment and retention is their biggest struggle. Post pandemic people are watching the membership costs so they are working on communicating their value and how they are helping businesses with their sustainability and successes.
Callie says her biggest tip is listening. That will tell you a lot about what your members and community need!
Questions We Asked
- What is the Helena Chamber all about? [1:17]
- What is a success story you’re really proud of? [5:13]
- What are challenges you face? [7:58]
- How can you learn more about the Helena Area Chamber? [9:19]
- What tip or trick can you pass along? [10:49]
Helena Area Chamber of Commerce
The Helena Area Chamber of Commerce is the oldest chamber in the state of Montana. Born out of its predecessor, the Helena Board of Trade, the Helena Chamber has operated since 1890. Located in in the heart of Helena’s historic downtown, the Chamber runs on a staff of six professional, highly dedicated employees whose sole mission is improving and fostering business in the Helena area. Along with looking out for the business needs of our members, the Chamber also operates Helena’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB). The CVB is committed to increasing tourism in the Helena area, and ensuring that local businesses benefit from visitors to Helena.
Learn more at https://helenachamber.com