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BizCast 42: La Crescent from Chamber’s Eye, with Brian Meeter

Episode 42

La Crescent from Chamber’s Eye, with Brian Meeter

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

[00:00:00] Brian Meeter: within a walking distance of my office. Which is in La Crescent, I can be at six different restaurants. A lot of people don’t realize that we have that many options in La Crescent. And we’d welcome businesses that are looking for a start-up. If they want to come talk to us about, hey listen, we’d like to start a business up in La Crescent. Welcome to BizCast Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from BizNews. We bring you news from the business community. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. And joining me is Brian Meeter. You are the executive director, correct, of the La Crescent Chamber of Commerce? That

[00:00:36] Brian Meeter: is correct. And actually, just to make sure I make my board happy, it’s the La Crescent Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

[00:00:44] Vicki Markussen: Excellent. And I think that’s an important piece. So, people, well, I shouldn’t say that because when I worked for the chamber, my kids were like, does that have to do with Harry Potter? So I’ll have you explain. Explain what does a Chamber of Commerce do and then adding on the tourism piece.

[00:00:59] Brian Meeter: to [00:01:00] it. I’ve been in the job now for about six months and learning just the different nuances of what a chamber does do.

[00:01:06] Brian Meeter: First and foremost, we need to represent our members, which are businesses for the most part. There are some individual members, but mostly it is to represent the greater commerce of our businesses in the area. And we’ve had to do that before every once in a while to take a political stance.

[00:01:22] Brian Meeter: In order to make sure that commerce and local businesses represented best. It’s not my favorite thing to do. I think anybody that’s been in my role feels the same way. But we’d look out for their best interest. And when something comes at the state level, that doesn’t represent the best interest of our business owners, then we might take a stance on that.

[00:01:42] Brian Meeter: It doesn’t happen very often, but that’s one piece of it, right? Mm hmm. Um, the other piece is sometimes we just get together and network. We call those mixers. That’s everybody’s favorite. Usually, we’ll have it at one of our local… bars or restaurants after 5 o’clock or so and just have a little mixer.

[00:01:57] Brian Meeter: We do special events. We do [00:02:00] Lunch and Learns. And our Lunch and Learns are, they’re pretty awesome. It’s easy to run out of topics, Vicki, so if you have some you can always send them my way. But Initially, we’ve talked about the impact of tourism on our local economy. I think a lot of people just don’t understand how important that can be.

[00:02:15] Brian Meeter: With the addition of a hotel in La Crescent, it’s really helped our tourism. And it’s busy. Yeah, you go by there almost any day and there’s a lot of cars in the parking lot. So that’s a piece of it. We do lunch and learns about different topics that are affecting us from the political standpoint and how to deal with those.

[00:02:35] Brian Meeter: So recently in Minnesota, we had quite a few new laws passed, and we had a lawyer come in, and it was our best attended. event and we had a lawyer come in and explain to us how those new laws are going to affect you as a business owner, manager. That was very well received and just recently, we, recently last week as a matter of fact, we had a lunch and learn on workforce development and issues in the workforce.

[00:02:58] Brian Meeter: Those are some of the things that we [00:03:00] do. We spotlight our members as well as new members. And if anybody in our membership has something interesting going on, they’ll reach out to me, and we’ll share it with our community. So those are just some of the things that we’re doing.

[00:03:13] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And of course, what sparks a lot of attention is always, what are the businesses that are opening up?

[00:03:18] Vicki Markussen: And a lot of times publicly, you’ll see the ones that are open to the public, but there’s also businesses, of course, that open that. a little quieter than that. And so how does the chamber get involved with new businesses opening

[00:03:33] Brian Meeter: up? Yeah, that’s something that’s unique to the Crescent.

[00:03:36] Brian Meeter: We’re our businesses are full. We don’t have a lot of lease opportunity. We don’t have a lot of room for growth unless we start taking down some buildings and starting over. And so that’s our unique challenges. And so, people come to us when they are going to start a business and ask for some assistance, like where can they get low-interest loans or [00:04:00] where can they find some grant opportunities?

[00:04:02] Brian Meeter: And so the director before me helped Affogato Lane find some grant opportunities. With the Economic Development Association. Affogato Lane Coffee is one of those companies that started out here in La Crescent, and they opened their doors, gosh, it was right around June. They had run a coffee trailer before that, and then they opened up their doors, and they’ve been really slammed since they did that.

[00:04:25] Brian Meeter: We did an official grand opening with them. We did a ribbon cut, cutting ceremony. We’ve done that with a, One other was actually a park, but the park had a great pavilion that people can rent for weddings and parties and stuff like that. So that’s called Weezer Park and the Weezer family redid this place, and it’s really cool.

[00:04:47] Brian Meeter: And we have a few others that are in the mix yet that I can’t really speak of yet because it’s going to be… somewhat of a surprise, but those businesses are either redos or expansions and not necessarily open to the [00:05:00] public, but you’ll see their effects throughout the community.

[00:05:03] Brian Meeter: Yeah. We

[00:05:03] Vicki Markussen: We were talking before I hit record about the mix of businesses that you have in the La Crescent area. Can you talk

[00:05:09] Brian Meeter: about that? I mentioned when I’ll already. We have the Weezer Brothers who Weezer Brothers construction, which they do commercial work and other work throughout the community, and they travel outside the community to work.

[00:05:20] Brian Meeter: They’re a big employer. We have several like that. And then we have everything in between. We have medium sized employers. We have medical facilities. We have a robust school system. We have a Montessori school which a lot of people don’t know. I didn’t know that. Yeah. It’s a very nice little school.

[00:05:39] Brian Meeter: It, there’s an alternative, right? If you’re not looking for the traditional path of school, there is some alternatives there. So we have banks, we have a lot of banks. We have a grocery store with a couple of quick trips, right? So we have a, another gas station in town as well. So I think a lot of people don’t realize it.

[00:05:57] Brian Meeter: And within a walking distance of my [00:06:00] office. Which is in La Crescent, about a three minute walk. I can be at six different restaurants. A lot of people don’t realize that we have that many options in La Crescent. And we’d welcome businesses that are looking for a start up. If they want to come talk to us about, hey listen, we’d like to start a business up in La Crescent.

[00:06:18] Brian Meeter: Come talk to me. Find us on the internet. And we can help you get there. We’re not going to guarantee that we’re going to, it’s going to be a raging success, but we can help you connect the dots and talk to people that might have space available.

[00:06:33] Vicki Markussen: And you are exploring space.

[00:06:34] Vicki Markussen: base within your office as well. Correct. For

[00:06:37] Brian Meeter: people to use. Yeah, that’s right. Actually, we have this really neat concept that kind of came through shortly after COVID called keep company. It’s a coworking space, and it’s located right inside our offices. It wasn’t my brain child. I take no credit for it.

[00:06:50] Brian Meeter: I’m just trying to help get it, get better use of the space. So it has two office spaces and a conference room also has a workstation where you can, send out mail. [00:07:00] And you can print and do all that sort of stuff right from our location. So we have people occasionally that’ll reach out to us, say, can we, use the coworking space?

[00:07:09] Brian Meeter: We’re working on ways in which we can make it a little easier to access it. So maybe a door reader and a keyless entry. Actually, as soon as I get down today, I’m going to meet with a lady in Lansing, Iowa, who runs a network of co-working spaces. So I’m going to pick her brain on how we can do this a little better.

[00:07:27] Brian Meeter: But when people travel through there, they’re at the hotel, and they need a quiet space, and they don’t want to be in a coffee shop. They need a little bit more privacy there. And then we have some people that just work out of their home and are reaching out to have the human interaction that we, you know, we miss.

[00:07:43] Brian Meeter: There’s options for that as well. Yeah,

[00:07:46] Vicki Markussen: very interesting model because, especially in the days of remote working, sometimes it’s just nice to get out of the house.

[00:07:52] Brian Meeter: That’s right. I did it for seven years and at the end of my seven years of working remotely, I was getting a little itchy to get out of the house, [00:08:00] right?

[00:08:00] Brian Meeter: And so I started to seek some opportunities and that kind of created, my interest in working outside of the house again. So I’d like the flexibility of having home office, but if you can marry the two, that’d be a perfect homework life balance. And I think Keep Company is trying to do that and check us out on our Explore La Crescent website.

[00:08:21] Brian Meeter: Yeah, you can learn more.

[00:08:23] Vicki Markussen: So speaking of exploring, I know that you have a great partnership with Explore La Crosse, and that kind of covers your tourism arm as

[00:08:31] Brian Meeter: well. Yeah, through our, in La Crosse County tourism or lodging tax in the Crescent. We have that as well. Those dollars get used in different ways, and they go to different organizations, and part of our dollars go over here to lacrosse and explore lacrosse staff to help promote the whole region as a tourism destination.

[00:08:52] Brian Meeter: And they’ll help us to recruit events to La Crescent. So we have an event center that can host some pretty good size events for if you’re looking at those [00:09:00] medium to small size conventions, whether it be a state police convention or a small-town administrators convention or something like that, we’ll help out with the hotel, we’ll help out with the event center.

[00:09:11] Brian Meeter: And if we need be, we’ll connect the dots into look at lacrosse and explore lacrosse as the staffing. and the reach to do some things for us that we can’t do. I’m a one-man band. We’re very, very thankful for our relationship with Explorer lacrosse. It’s a good thing. And it’s helping tourism, not only in the Crescent, but tourism in the region, which affects people up and down the river.

[00:09:35] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. Because you’re part time as well. Yeah.

[00:09:37] Brian Meeter: Yeah. It’s a three-quarter time position. And so, having it’s like having staff without having to pay them, right? We have that opportunity to connect with Explorer lacrosse, and they do some pretty cool stuff for us. So

[00:09:48] Vicki Markussen: fantastic.

[00:09:49] Vicki Markussen: It’s always nice to work in collaboration. And so you are really representing, again, you’re straddling the businesses and obviously not all businesses [00:10:00] need people walking in the door because they just have a different form of business. But you’re interestingly also trying to attract people into those businesses.

[00:10:11] Vicki Markussen: That’s the tourism arm. And one of the things that we talked about is the trails and the impact that the trails have on La Crescent. Can you speak to that?

[00:10:20] Brian Meeter: First, we have a really good trail plan through our city. And some of those things are starting to come to fruition. So one of the neatest things that has happened to the Crescent in a little while is our wagon wheel trail, and it’s a bicycle trail that goes over the highway right into downtown La Crescent.

[00:10:38] Brian Meeter: One thing I didn’t mention is the downtown La Crescent is getting a redo on Walnut Street, which is our main street that goes through town. And it’s all that planning is going on right now, but this was part of the planning of that as well. And it took place before Walnut Street.

[00:10:53] Brian Meeter: And I see people from all over the Midwest come through on bicycles. Some are recreational, some [00:11:00] are serious tourists. And the serious tourists, they’re not just, coming over to lacrosse and having a coffee. They’re cruising through on to Sparta. And just heading right down the line.

[00:11:11] Brian Meeter: And some of them are really here to train. So if you are looking to train in these beautiful bluffs that we have, both Minnesota and Wisconsin, have great back roads for that. So they’re paved and people love that. Challenging, right? And the hills are straight up and down. We have several bike rides that kind of emphasize that.

[00:11:34] Brian Meeter: But, getting back to La Crescent planning trails, we have a couple of different parks in there that are really cool. And then we’re trying to connect them all in the future. Going up Apple Blossom lookout, that is just a really cool, quick walk. You can get a couple of miles in there and get a couple of bluff top scenic overlooks and stuff.

[00:11:51] Brian Meeter: I, when I go up there, I go up there maybe once or twice a month just to go for a walk and see who’s there. I’ve met people from [00:12:00] as far away as Idaho. I met a lot of people that come down from the cities that just think this area is just amazing. A lot of those people come down here and retire because it’s just a different pace of life, and they love the beauty of the area.

[00:12:12] Brian Meeter: That’s really important to me is tying in the tourism part of my job. And I’m, it’s great that we have some collaboration like, like I spoke about because we want to promote that even more and we do want to focus a little bit just on the Crescent as well. So one of the things we’re doing that I didn’t talk about.

[00:12:28] Brian Meeter: with you before is that we are creating a kind of a recreational tourism video just for La Crescent. So we’re doing bicycling. We’re doing kayak fishing on the Mississippi River backwaters. We’ve got, lock and dam number seven right here in La Crescent. That, and that’s a great place to fish shore or with a boat, you can hop on a pontoon and go over to the float which is a really good fishing as well. We highlight, we’re going to highlight golfing and hiking and just all kinds of fun stuff [00:13:00] in that video and use that as a promotional tool for a couple of different reasons. Just to promote it out there. We’re going to do a lot of social media marketing with that.

[00:13:09] Brian Meeter: Also when we have. different conventions that want to come to town in La Crescent. They’re like what do you do? Here’s our video, right? And so we’ll share that with them, and then it’ll help them get a better idea of what people can do outside of their typical convention, life at five o’clock, they want to go somewhere.

[00:13:25] Brian Meeter: So we’re going to show them where to go.

[00:13:27] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic. Yeah, it’s tucked in the valley, if you will, with some amazing assets around it. And I’m sure we were talking about the city of La Crosse, putting a bridge, a bike dedicated bridge in, and that’ll help bring traffic. What would be that West? traffic.

[00:13:45] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. Yeah. So that’ll add more people. Hey, let’s go bike over to La Crescent and I know you’ve attracted some pretty significant bike races.

[00:13:53] Brian Meeter: Yeah. We do, we have some cool bike races over, tours. We’ve got the apple blossom tour. There was one that happened during Apple [00:14:00] Fest as well with a lot of cyclists.

[00:14:01] Brian Meeter: We had this cool event that happened in August called bam bicycle around Minnesota. Yeah. And I don’t know. They probably shocked some of these people that live in the flatland in Minnesota because they went from Lanesboro through here and a lot of hills, but they stayed in the Crescent overnight.

[00:14:18] Brian Meeter: We have had a music event that night and had a beer tent, and it was a good time. They really appreciate the hospitality there. But, from there, they can splinter off and go just about anywhere. We had a woman’s only motorcycle group that came through, and I worked with explore lacrosse to help them with accommodations and just the different things that they needed.

[00:14:45] Brian Meeter: And that was a really fun group that came through that. Those are just some of the things that people love to motorcycle up and down this river Valley. And it’s not me. I’m not that person. I prefer to be in a convertible car going [00:15:00] up and down the Mississippi River. But for those people that do, it’s a great place to stop.

[00:15:05] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So my common closing question is, what makes you passionate about what you do?

[00:15:11] Brian Meeter: Yeah, I like trying to bring everybody together and collaborate and just connect. We do that through some of our events. We have a golf tournament in the summer that we bring out people you didn’t even know golfed, and it’s really fun to see them. One of the things I really enjoy is bringing some businesses back into the community a little bit.

[00:15:28] Brian Meeter: I’ve been able to do that through new members that have joined the chamber. And when they do, we, we try to do our best to highlight what. We’re doing highlight them and get them involved. I think that’s really fun. Our board is an active board. It’s not an advisory board. So they’re getting involved with the upcoming event we have called Christmas in the Crescent.

[00:15:52] Brian Meeter: So that, that’ll be we’re working on the planning pieces of that, it’ll be tied into the holiday train and that’ll [00:16:00] bring out the community in different ways that are, it doesn’t have to be rigid, right? Sometimes in our jobs we’re just very specific about what we have to do, but that’s why, bringing everybody together in mixers, and we have a downtown trick or treating from 3 to 5 on Halloween night, and we have the Christmas and the Crescent coming up, we bring people together, enjoy the human interactions.

[00:16:23] Brian Meeter: I think that’s so important. Yeah.

[00:16:24] Vicki Markussen: Especially after the pandemic, when we missed so much of

[00:16:27] Brian Meeter: that. So we did, we were forced into a different way of thinking, and hopefully, we’re going to, and I see the signs of this all the time, come out on the other side a lot stronger. So

[00:16:35] Vicki Markussen: yeah, absolutely. Brian meter, executive director of the La Crescent area chamber of commerce and tourism.

[00:16:43] Vicki Markussen: Thanks for joining me. We’ll catch you next week.



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