A Unique Take on Solving Workforce and Housing Issues
Ste Genevive, MO
[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] A friends welcome to another episode of chats with chambers. This is the best podcast ever you get to talk with and learn from executive directors and leadership and chamber positions all over the country. See what they’re doing. That’s great that you might be able to do great at your own chamber of commerce with us today. A wonderful guest Dena Kreitler. She is the executive director of the St. Genevieve Chamber of Commerce and Missoura. Did I say it correctly?
[Dena Kreitler] We say misery but that’s okay.
[Patrick Kirby] Nuts. Dino. Welcome to chat with chambers. How are you?
[Dena Kreitler] I’m great. Thank you so much for having me.
[Patrick Kirby] I am very excited to learn all things about this the best part about this podcast I get to learn about places I never knew existed before. So could you kick us off with kind of a 5000 foot view on who you are what you do, and give us an update on what’s happening at the St. Genevieve Chamber of Commerce.
[Dena Kreitler] Okay, well, Dina Kreitler, I’ve been the Executive Director for the St. Genevieve Chamber of Commerce for 22 years. And it was actually kind of a position when I took this job. It was a volunteer position. And so I was there first hiree. And we basically have kind of grown it from there, a little bit about St. Genevieve. We are a very small community right on the Mississippi River. We are actually the oldest town west of the Mississippi founded in 1735. And when I say we’re right on the river, we are right on the river. The Mississippi has blessed us and cursed us for many, many years, actually, in 1993, at about took our entire town due to a flood. But we kind of came together and rallied together as a community and build a levee around our community. So now we are basically we’re protected by a 50 foot levee all the way around our community. So it’s wonderful. We still have very much living history in our community. There are only five houses in the United States that are built on stilts, and three of them are in our community. So yeah, it’s pretty, it’s pretty fascinating. So we are very historic in nature. And we stay very true to our roots here. And I think that’s partly, you know, part of the, the beauty of it, people come back here and they they feel like they’ve kind of walked through time a little bit. So that’s really fun. I am born and raised in this community. And until 22 years ago, I never knew what a chamber of commerce did. So it’s been very fun for me a lot of learning. My very first year and a half, I thought, oh my gosh, what I get myself into. And it was it was literally just a learning curve for me. And what I did is me and my husband went and stayed in every bed and breakfast in our town, and basically learned about our community and how I could promote them on the tourist side of things. So things have changed a lot since that time I where you now have kind of not really withdrawn from the tourist community. But we have a very active tourism department now. So they’ve kind of taken on a lot of that responsibility, which has been more satisfying for me because I get to focus them more on commerce and business and starting businesses and entrepreneurship. So it’s been fine.
[Patrick Kirby] I love that. Well. Yeah. Talk a little bit about the business climate business community. What can we expect who is there in two gentlemen?
[Dena Kreitler] So we are a very heavy mining community. We have Mississippi Lime Company who has been in our community for 120 years. We are actually home to the largest cement plant in the United States wholesome us and we have several different other mining’s last North America. We have tower rock stone, we have brickies we have all kinds of different things and then we’re strong we’re heavily strong and manufacturing as well as smaller manufacturing. We have angstrom Eric’s got leather Ultra flow people window. People window was actually an Italian based company. And they’re fairly new to our community within probably the last four years. So it’s very interesting. You know, we have a new CEO, who is their chief operating officer, and he’s actually from Italy, a fantastic company. And we’re very blessed to have them in our community as well. But more so we are natural limestone. So we make everything from food grade lime, to shipping it out to large capacity for stone barges, and concrete and all kinds of things. So we’re actually very, very blessed, very small. We are just shy of 5000 people in our town in our city proper about 18, five in our county. So we’re, we’re very blessed to kind of be in a small community, but very rich in our membership. So which hasn’t always been the case. You know, our membership when I came on was 114. And right now we’re about 347.
[Patrick Kirby] Band tampers. That’s scary. Well, being in a town that is the oldest in the west of the Mississippi, you’ve seen a lot, you had a lot of big wins. And I think the chamber usually has something to do with that. So can you brag a little bit about what’s a great big win that your chamber has done with the business community you can share with us today?
[Dena Kreitler] I think a lot of things, one of our primary, it’s been a challenge. But it’s also been a little successful for us as our workforce development plan. You know, I guess about five years ago, our large companies like Mississippi Lime, and tyreq came to us and said, Hey, in five years, we’re gonna have a 50% turnover due to retirement. And we need we need help, we need workforce we need, we need to make sure that our business still thrives. And so we created a business retention program. And we also created a housing initiative program as well, because people love our community. But we’re so small, we don’t have enough rooftops to house them. So housing was a huge challenge for us. And then, you know, working with the, the, the businesses to create that workforce development plan. So they the turnover was not, you know, as detrimental to their business. And we’ve been very successful with it. I would say like the last last year or so it’s been a little tough, because you know, as you know, and maybe where you’re from, you’re seeing it too, I think a lot of people across the nation are people just don’t want to work. I think COVID kind of did a little thing like get to work from home, they got a little taste of it, and they don’t want to go back to the office. And I see that we see that in our community a little bit too. Even though our unemployment numbers are fairly low, it just seems like everyone is needing assistance and needing more hands on deck kind of thing. So we’re working really hard on trying to improve that. But I will tell you that our housing initiative, finally, we got, we finally made some big, big headway. And we actually were involved in a land swap with our Catholic Church here, who own quite a bit of land out in our industrial park. And we did an actual land swap with them and the Archdiocese approved our plan, and the city signed off on it. And now we’re ready to start developing about 120 new housing subdivision. So the chamber and our Industrial Development Corp had our fingers on that cookie jar, we were all in and we weren’t given up. And that was about four years in the making. But we finally got some really good headway. And we are we are on the move. Now to just keep moving forward with it.
[Patrick Kirby] An organization that has the longevity that you do always kind of has to think long term, though short term with the fact that I love the fact that you started thinking about housing and workforce development. Because before this came like a serious national issue. So you were ahead of the game. Nice foresight going on right there. Besides workforce development and housing, what’s one of the biggest challenges that you have been facing currently at the Genesis Chamber?
[Dena Kreitler] You know, um, I think challenges in our for us is just getting keeping an active board. You know, our board members are wonderful, and I’ve been blessed with some really great board of directors. But I know that their time is, is very limited because they’re working full time jobs elsewhere. So creating camaraderie with our board and keeping them active and engaged. It’s been kind of a challenge. But they’ve never wavered. I mean, I, you know, and here’s another thing that many people don’t know and I don’t know that I’ve actually ever realized it until I put it to paper. I have a female president this year and she is on Only one to five in our 98 Hispanic 98 year history. So I’ve been very blessed to have some young individuals come to the forefront when I started this job. 22 years ago, my youngest director was 63 years old. Oh, yeah, hey, nothing, nothing with that generation. That’s, that’s great. But here I was at this age, I was 25. And, you know, actually, I was 24 when I came in, and I was like, Oh, how do I relate to a 60 something year old, you know, it was tough those first several years. Actually, I’m really surprised that I stayed after two years, because I it was just so difficult for me to engage. But then the shifts kind of changed a little bit, they realized that I was a young individual, I was starting a family. So my evening times, were supposed to be family oriented. So we kind of switched our her whole motto with chamber and how we did business, during a work day, instead of an after hours kind of thing. And really, after that, then people started coming to us, we’ve never had an issue with people wanting to be on our board. At some point that we have to like, kind of, I don’t really want to say pick and choose, but you almost have to like lay your slate out to where you’re getting the best bang for your buck kind of thing. So, but we’ve been pretty blessed, I would say that that’s probably one of, and I think probably a lot of chambers deal with that a little bit, trying to build their, you know, their support system, because that’s really what it is. I’m a I’m a one person office, I have been a one person office for 22 years, I occasionally I get a summer intern and and I definitely need them. So having my board as my support system is a huge, huge challenge, you know, keeping them engaged and keeping them active. For us,
[Patrick Kirby] I don’t think you’re gonna hear a chamber leader that doesn’t have some sort of read. That doesn’t resonate with with some of that. But again, I love the fact that you’re forward thinking enough about that, and been long enough at the chamber to kind of see how you bridge some of those personalities and those age differences and kind of take the best perspectives out of everybody to build your board of your dreams. Kudos to you. Alright, so you’ve been in the role for 22 years, you’ve seen some things and you’ve seen some stuff, I’m sure there’s an executive director who’s either brand new or listening to this go. And I wonder if there’s a tip or trick that I can get from our friend, Dina, and maybe apply it to my chamber of commerce? So do you have a tip or a trick, things that you’ve learned that have worked, that maybe you can pass along to someone else today?
[Dena Kreitler] I think probably more of a tip. You know, we’ve all been there as a newcomer and reaching out to your colleagues, especially in your area in a radius, I don’t know, you know, some some chambers have their neighbors like 10 miles or 15 miles, you know, my, my closest chamber, to me is actually 28 miles north, east, and south of me, so I can’t say or I should say West, not east, because that’s the river, but I’ve reached out to them, and they have become my confidence. They, when I’m having a bad day, or I have I have an issue that I’m not real sure how to deal with and I know that they, they have been through there that, that challenge themselves, I reach out to them and say, Man, I need to really pick your brain. So don’t be afraid to, to lean on your colleagues, even if even if you think that their competition because you know our communities around us their competition, we’re trying to we’re probably Trump drawing from the same membership pool. But I don’t see my my colleagues as competition, I see them more as just colleagues and confidence and someone who can actually help make my job a lot easier, and maybe even better in some in some aspects. So don’t be afraid to reach out to others. The other thing I would probably say is, no matter how hard the conversation is, always be honest with your board. You know, a couple years ago, it’s probably been four or five years ago, I was feeling a huge burnout. And I just I had to go to my board and I just said, you know, they could see it. They you know, and they kept asking me and I kept saying to myself, Oh, I’m fine. I’m just I just kept taking on more and more. And finally came to a point to where I just sat him down and I said listen, I am one person and you’re you’re dumping a lot on me. And at this point I still had kids at home you know all my all my kids are grown now. And so I just feel like I needed a break and they gave it to me. It was it was actually quite remarkable. But always be honest with your board i because they’re they expect a lot from us. They really do. And we have to be able to present that to them and still run this office as smooth as possible. but we also have to take care of ourselves. And, you know, mentally and physically and emotionally, you know, because this job is emotional. Sometimes I take a little offense to it, because if I lose a member, I’m like, Oh my gosh, what did I do? Like what happened? Like, what? What’s going on? And really just go to that member and sit them down and say, What can I do? And if there’s nothing I can do, I’m sad to see you go. But hopefully we can make this work eventually, you know? Yeah, it’s just,
[Patrick Kirby] I love those tips. I think there’s nothing better. And again, this is kind of what this podcast is for. It’s to connect people from across the country to make the Hey, I don’t feel I’m not crazy. This is what everybody kind of feels. And I think that’s such a wonderful reminder is that you’re not alone. As a leader of an organization like this, doing really amazing work for businesses is tough. And it is emotionally connected, right? When you see somebody who doesn’t have a business that doesn’t make it or the business that has to shut down. That’s, that’s a personal issue, when you are so invested in the chamber, so I so appreciate your openness for that. And I so appreciate that as one of your, your things, your values that you add, I think a lot of people are going to want to get a hold of you, they’re going to want to get you as in your mentor circle, and they’re going to want to see what the amazing things you’re doing in St. Genevieve, how to get they get a hold of you. Where do they go to find more information? And how do they connect with you? Dina?
[Dena Kreitler] Yeah, so they can reach out to me via our website at St. Jen chamber.org. And it’s Ste g n chamber.org. Or they can you know, drop me an email at Dina at St. Jen chamber.org. So I’m very easily to find there. You can also if you’re in the social media realm, you can look up look us up on Facebook, under St. Genevieve, Chamber of Commerce, and even Instagram. So we’re kind of in those two components. Right now, we haven’t dove into the world of Twitter or anything else like that. It’s just a lot. So again, one person employee, you can put too many things on your plates. So I would love to reach out to other people. I feel like our network is only as good as you know, the people around us as we build our connections around us. And one of the other things I would really like to quickly say is that if you don’t belong to your State Chamber, you totally should, because I will tell you, there’s no bigger champion than your State Chamber. And they’re champion for every one of us in our state, big or small. And they they’ve also been part of our success. And about 12 years ago, we finally you know, jumped into the whole State Chamber thing. And it made it it’s made a huge, huge difference in the way that we work and the way we network, and also just in the way that we communicate with our members. It’s amazing. So you should definitely do that.
[Patrick Kirby] coaches need coaches to absolutely right, have a mentor that is sitting at the state realm doing that exact same work. Dina, thank you so much for your perspective. Thanks so much for sharing your values with us. Thanks for telling, sharing some tips and tricks and things that you’re doing amazing at the St. Genoveva Chamber of Commerce. But most of all, thanks for being a guest here on chats with chambers. Thank you so much.
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Ste. Genevieve is a small community (just shy of 5,000 people) on the Mississippi River. Of the 5 houses in the US built on stilts, 3 are in Ste. Genevieve. They are historical and really embrace their roots. The Chamber focuses more on businesses now that their is a tourism department that’s taken that on. It is a heavy mining community. They are home to the largest cement plant in the US. They also have smaller manufacturing companies in town. They currently have 347 members.
They are proud of their workforce development plan. They worked with some local businesses when they realized that in 5 years they would have a 50% turnover rate due to retirement. They created a workforce development and housing plan. They were involved with a land swap with church so that the city could develop a new subdivision. It was a long-term 4-year project but has finally come together.
They struggle with keeping an active board. They are working on building more camaraderie so they stay engaged and excited. She’s also working on building more diversity in the board. They have only their 5th female board president currently in their 98 year history.
Dena’s tip is to reach out to your colleagues. They help brainstorm, can share resources and even just listen if you’re struggling with something inside your chamber. They understand what you’re going through and can help with ideas and feedback.
Tip #2 – no matter how hard the conversation may be, always be honest with your board!
Questions We Asked
- What is the Ste. Genevieve Chamber all about? [1:10]
- What are some wins? [6:15]
- What are challenges you face? [9:18]
- What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [12:16]
- How can you learn more about Ste. Genevieve? [16:09]
Ste. Genevieve Chamber of Commerce
In addition to supporting and promoting local businesses, the Ste. Genevieve Area Chamber of Commerce is leading the conversation on ways to grow our community. We’re taking action to bring together business leaders, the city, the county, and residents to tackle the challenges we collectively face. The brightest days for our region still lie ahead—and there’s never been a better time to make an impact on the future of our community. We welcome your voices and ideas with open arms and hope you’ll join us in our efforts to keep the Ste. Genevieve area moving forward.
Learn more at: https://stegenchamber.org