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Rallying the Community During Times of Crisis

Harbor Springs, MI


[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 

[Patrick Kirby] Well, hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of chats with chambers where we connect with our favorite chambers of commerce across the United States. Ask them how they’re doing things they’re rockin and rollin and some challenges they might have. And yes, you might find some tips and tricks that you can use at your own Chamber of Commerce or your own Chamber Leadership to do awesome things in your region of the world. So I’m very excited to welcome to the show today, buddy cop, Executive Director of the Harbor Springs chamber in Michigan. Bonnie, welcome to chat to chambers. How are you?

[Bonnie Kulp] I am great. Thank you so much, Patrick. It’s an honor to be here.

[Patrick Kirby] I’m very excited to chat with you. I always get excited when I learn about a city or a town or a region that I have no idea about anything. And I get to learn along with the audience who’s listening. So Bonnie, can you tell me a little bit about Harbor Springs?

[Bonnie Kulp] So as you can tell from its name, we are a harbor? We are right, we’re on we’re off of Lake Michigan, we are Little Traverse Bay Harbor, which it is here. Here’s a fun fact, the deepest harbor in all of the Great Lakes, all of the Great Lakes.

[Patrick Kirby] This is this again, this is the best part about this podcast, I learned so many little tips, things that are cool, that are all unique to that. That’s amazing.

[Bonnie Kulp] Yes, so we are a tourist area, we are truly a community. There are those of us who live here year round, which really are the backbone of what helped and make our community run. But then we have what is very affectionately called Summer people. And it’s individuals who have been coming here for generations, families that came on boats from Chicago from other parts of the world, other parts from particularly like Michigan, but not necessarily. And so our community was built that way. It was a vacation community back in the early 1900s.

[Patrick Kirby] That’s fantastic. Yeah, that tell me something I wouldn’t know or what besides the deepest harbor in the world, what sort of super cool, super neat thing happens in whether it’s a business or a thing that’s happened in the past that nobody would know about Harbor Springs?

[Bonnie Kulp] Well, so another piece of our community is the springs part is we have natural artesian springs. So many of our older homes actually have small springs running through, believe it or not the basement. Our well water is some of the best water in the world. It’s just it’s a really special place. But with all of that water we are known for our sailboats, we are known for the boating here. We have the beginning of summer this year, it’s on June 30. Our Historical Society runs what’s called the blessing of the fleet. And anyone may have a boat in this and believe it or not, our local and I believe it is the local priest goes out on one of the huge ships that comes in and blesses the the boats for a safe season for the waters. And it’s just a tradition that’s been done forever and ever and it continues to get done. And it’s just a it’s a fun thing to do.

[Patrick Kirby] I love that. Bonnie, tell me a little bit about the business community in Harbor Springs.

[Bonnie Kulp] Oh boy, the business community is really diverse. We’ve got your basic Mom and Pop clothing shops, very unique things. Long ago, when this area became popular, some of our founding fathers decided they wanted to try to protect the integrity of that old charm. So we do not have any chain businesses, no chain businesses. So our restaurants, our clothing shops, our pharmacy is owned by a local family. So that’s really neat. But then we have a huge building industry because it’s a popular place to be and so our architects and builders are world renowned and do just beautiful thing. So, you know, it’s sort of like any other community, right? We have plumbers, we have electricians, we have your base people who keep everything going. But then what I really love it is what you will find shopping here or going to restaurants here, you’re not going to find anywhere else. And that’s cool.

[Patrick Kirby] That’s, that’s beyond fantastic. Alright, so tell me a little bit about success stories. I know you’ve got a million of them working with so many businesses. But what’s that? What’s a great success story that you and the chamber have had sort of seen over the last year or so that you’re just really to celebrate with us here on the podcast?

[Bonnie Kulp] Well, so there’s a couple of different things. I mean, our businesses really did well. Man, I say that choking. But they survived. Most businesses survived because we are such a community. And one of the things I’m really proud of as a chamber, what we did, at the very beginning, when our state completely shut down, we, our admin here came up with the idea it was before I was even hired, was to do an auction, an online auction. And she collected information from our businesses, things that people couldn’t go in and shop. And so we raised over $20,000, which and it all went back, every penny that was sold purchased, we got sponsors to pay for the software. And the chamber took zero money from it, we all of it went back to our businesses. And that was the community and that’s the community we live in. We are newsletter listed, which is which restaurants were doing, what takeout, how do you get their menus? When are they doing takeout? What’s happening and our people went and did takeout and kept our restaurants alive. And that was huge. That was huge. I’m trying to think I Okay, so we only have five or six restaurants here in town. So it’s, it’s relative, right? But we did not lose one restaurant. Right here. Community. Yeah,

[Patrick Kirby] that’s, that’s, that’s an amazing service. And this is what I love about the Chamber of Commerce is that they are going to be the ones that step up, and they’re going to make a difference. And they’re going to be the leaders to help make sure that you know, not even have a global pandemic is going to be that negative. In a community like this. What are some of the challenges that you are currently facing as a chamber? There’s a, I’m sure there’s a lot to go around. But what’s the challenge? And how are you trying to overcome that?

[Bonnie Kulp] Well, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is as a chamber, but it’s the community itself is staffing. We and I know that this is nationwide, this is not just us. But staffing is a huge problem. And that goes hand in hand with housing, we do not have enough housing for the individuals. And there are stories every day of not just an individual, you know, you need servers at restaurants, we will have school superintendent or an exec at one of our businesses gets hired, and then they cannot find somewhere to live. And so they have to respectfully decline the position. And they aren’t they don’t move here. And we need that we need to continue to have really wonderful individuals working within our schools and within our businesses, to help keep the Harbor Springs that we all know and appreciate. And so those are our two really biggest issues right now.

[Patrick Kirby] Yeah, I think I think everybody’s probably listening and nodding at the same time going. Yeah, we hear that, that has, over the your time. As an executive director of Harbor Springs chamber, I’m sure you’ve learned a couple of things and have a couple of tips and tricks for those who are listening that maybe they can take back to their own Chamber Leadership on what’s worked, how you succeeded, whether it’s chamber membership, recruitment, or retention or putting on events. Give us a tip or a trick.

[Bonnie Kulp] So, you know, I think the thing that we really have done and learned is to pay attention to our community and make sure we do things that make sense to our community, what works for one doesn’t work for another, and vice versa. We’ve had to think outside the box without having events. How do we raise money? How do we pay our bills? So we’ve done really fun things like we created a puzzle, a local individual who’s a photographer donated some pictures, and we did a puzzle that the community just blew up in love. But so those are it’s thinking outside the box, what can you do and do differently helping our businesses think differently? There isn’t one way to solve a problem. There isn’t one way to accomplish what your goals are. And you just you got to roll with it. And sometimes he’s one of my favorite phrases is just sort of spitballing things. You know what works, what does We, I tried to change up one of our events last year and make a ladies, it was a ladies evening and I made it a lady’s weekend thinking that we could turn it into this. And it was a total lead balloon. She didn’t like it. So we’re going back to one night this year. And that’s it is okay. So it will change it will go back to the way it was. And you have to be able to roll with that to some things work. Some things don’t and you can’t take it personally. You just keep on moving and you keep doing the best that you can for your community, for your businesses and for the area.

[Patrick Kirby] Listen at nothing says Chamber of Commerce like, hey, you’ve got permission to try something new. I think I liked that a lot. All right, so I’m fine. You’ve convinced me I think I’m gonna move to Harbor Springs. I’m gonna move in the whole business here. But I need to be sold on why should join the chamber. I’m moved here. I got my business sponsor you got you got an app, a captive audience of me. I need an elevator pitch on why I should join. Join chamber. Yeah, tell me why I should join.

[Bonnie Kulp] Being part of the community, which is huge and supporting the community. But one of the things that’s really pretty impressive, I mean, we’re very small downtown and of our downtown. There’s 1050 registered voters. Just to give you an idea, right? Our school district is much larger group larger than that, but it’s a small community, our newsletter goes to over 1800 individuals. And we have an open rate of over 51%. And the reason is, in my belief, because the people who get our newsletter, they want to know what’s going on in Harbor Springs. And they are really committed to Harbor Springs. And using businesses that are within the chamber. I have individuals who are summer individuals up here and they’ll message me and say hey, I need an electrician Who’s Who are the members that are electricians or I need this or that and they really need a new CPA. Who’s Who are the members send me that list before I go out and try to find others. So I think it’s a really, we are a close knit community. We support each other and I think the chamber is one of the nucleuses of that. Only one there are others

[Patrick Kirby] up yet, but I’m so you’ve sold me on it. I’m moving. That’s it. I’m packing my bags. I’m coming to Harbor Springs, I appreciate it. How do I get a hold of your chamber? How do I get a hold of you? Where do I find you on the interwebs. So everybody listening can go and check out all the amazing things.

[Bonnie Kulp] That’s our URL. You’ll find us on Facebook, the Harbor Springs chamber. We have a very big social media presence. So anybody can do it that way as well. They’re welcome to give us a call 231-526-7999 Happy to take phone calls. We people call us in the fall and want to know how the leafs are have the leafs changed yet. And we have a wonderful community of the we have the tunnel of trees and it’s a beautiful lining road up along Lake Michigan. That is just stunning during the fall, so call us email us check out our website.

[Patrick Kirby] Perfect. We’ll put all those in the show notes per usual Bonnie, thank you so much for being on on the podcast. Thanks so much for what you do for the Chamber of Commerce thanks for what you do for the businesses. It means a lot to be and have sort of a rock like yourself during anytime to trouble and and thinking outside of the box and getting permission to do so was a wonderful tip and trick. But mostly thanks so much for being a guest here on chats with chambers.

[Bonnie Kulp] Thanks, Patrick. I appreciate it.

[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 Or Links in the show notes


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Harbor Springs is located off Lake Michigan and is the deepest harbor in all of the Great Lakes. They are a tourist area, with year round residents and a summer population with families that have been coming for generations. All the business in the area are local, there are no chain stores. 

Harbor Springs survived COVID. The Chamber team did an online auction and raised $20,000 and reinvested that back into the local businesses to support them during this time. They used their website to help support restaurants and keep communication open. All the restaurants stayed open and were able to survive during the pandemic.

Focusing on your individual community can help you make better decisions. They love to think outside the box to come up with other ways to generate revenue and support the area. They had a local photographer donate their photos and turned them into puzzles. They’ve tried things that work and some that didn’t but they learned through it all!

Questions We Asked

  • What is the Harbor Springs Area Chamber all about? [1:40]
  • What is your success story? [5:30]
  • What are challenges you face? [7:30]
  • What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [8:48]
  • How can you learn more about the Harbor Springs Area Chamber? [9:28]
Bonnie Kulp headshot

Bonnie Kulp

Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce

Bonnie Kulp, Executive Director, Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, began at the Chamber in May of 2020.  During the past two years with the Chamber, they have increased membership, events and community engagement.  

Bonnie retired from 26-year career at the University of Michigan to become Chamber Director.  She was employed in various capacities during tenure at Michigan.  For her final six years she was the Executive Assistant in the Athletic Department, specifically for Aquatic Sports. 

Bonnie’s love affair with the Harbor Springs Community began more than seven years ago on a vacation and blossomed into home ownership here in 2017. Bonnie commented during her interview, “My love for Harbor Springs has deepened each year, and each time we have participated in many of the annual events from the tree lighting, Bowling on Main, the July 4th Parade, to the Farmers Markets, I am so pleased to be a part of this community. I am in awe of the people, the community and the businesses that make up our lovely town.

Bonnie says she has never worked harder, nor been happier.  Harbor Springs is an amazing community and lovely part of the world.

Learn more at: 

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