When she agreed in September 2009 to fill in temporarily to lead the Red Wing Chamber of Commerce, Patty Brown described it as “learning by fire.”
Ten years later, she wouldn’t describe it any other way, and she wouldn’t trade the decision for anything else.
Brown was named the full-time executive director in December 2009,. Brown had been a chamber member since 1982 and ambassador since 1993, and was convinced by board members to step in for a short time.
Filling in only on a part-time, 10-hour a week basis wasn’t going to be enough.
“I literally came to an empty office. Nothing. No, ‘here’s how we do this, here’s what this is,’ empty office," Brown said. She recalled Board Chair Kim Weimer saying."I think you can figure it out." Brown then said, "OK, meeting is over.
Brown’s marketing and public relations experience proved worthwhile. She quickly began going through the membership list, seeing who had paid and who hadn’t, trying to set up an organized system for herself and other employees. Brown was trying to canvass area businesses and ask for a second chance, to show the chamber membership was worth the time and investment.
All the while that Brown was trying to revitalize the chamber, a nationwide search was underway from September to December. And after every application, board members would ask Brown if she would interview for the position.
Kindly, Brown would decline after every inquiry.
“It was never my intention,” Brown said. “I always loved working with the chamber in the business world and all that kind of thing, but it wasn’t my goal to be like, ‘That’s the job I want.’”
Finally, after enough asking, Brown agreed to go through the interview process. This interview would be the most difficult of Brown’s career, she said, reminiscing over the 85-degree room, psychological and computer skills test for three hours.
It was an intense ordeal , but now she laughs at the experience. “It’s just one of those funny things.”
The chamber has 180 members. Many hadn’t paid due. She needed to begin recruiting.
The first year was “very painful,” Brown said.
Ten years later, other chambers ask Red Wing chamber staff and members what they’re doing to flourish as well as they are.
As of September 2019, the Red Wing Chamber has 415 paying members. While membership goes through a cycle of full times and empty times for businesses, Brown said they’re able to keep a consistent group together.
What’s it like to work in the office? It’s a little nuts.
“It’s a crazy, chaotic schedule,” Brown said. “Our schedule gets changed by every phone call, every person that walks in.”
Brown said she’s still waiting to find the down time.
What’s the next decade look like?
The chamber’s maximized its communication over the past decade. Between a weekly newsletter that talks about the happenings around town to the social media interactions, the chamber is hard to miss, especially the chamber ambassadors in their red jackets.
So with an influx of new members and communication reaching all parts of town, what does Brown want for business in Red Wing over the next decade? Brown said more entertainment, bars, restaurants and shopping would always be beneficial.
What does Brown want for the chamber of the next decade? She hopes to keep the chamber an intangible asset, always improving and helping when it’s needed.
Brown credits her crew, saying she and the chamber wouldn’t be “successful” without all of their hard work.