New director polishing Richmond-Spring Grove chamber

RICHMOND – Laura Ferris can decorate wedding cakes and wield power tools.

The new executive director of the Richmond-Spring Grove Chamber of Commerce has drawn attention and 50 new members since taking the job in March. Her goal is to bring membership to 300 by the end of 2013.

The chamber’s membership had dwindled over the years, settling at 170 members by the time she was hired.

“When I first got here, I was out of this door and meeting people instantly because I feel it’s important that people knew there was a change because of what I heard,” Ferris said. “What I heard was, the little wooden plaque that you get was your $200 chamber trophy. That’s all you got from the chamber.”

She’s trying to change that.

Monthly networking luncheons now switch between the lunch hour and after five, something her hometown’s chamber in La Crosse, Wis., instituted.

“It just makes more sense to me. You don’t have to close your store to attend, and you can still have that networking opportunity,” she said.

She’s also added five new events, including spring and fall wine walks and a Dude’s Day.

Dude’s Day takes place at Spring Grove’s Auto Gallery Museum and features classic cars, bourbon and cigars. It’s also an opportunity for home-based businesses that sell items for the “little lady” to get exposure, Ferris said.

With a higher membership, the chamber will enhance these events and the ones it already has on the calendar, she said.

New this spring are technology seminars.

Andrew Haase recently moved to Richmond and joined the chamber. He’s the funeral director of Haase-Lockwood and Associates, which operates five funeral homes in southern Wisconsin.

The business recently started a Facebook page, so Haase plans to attend the seminar on social media.

Ferris, 41, moved to Richmond in August 2011 from La Crosse, where her primary occupation was selling real estate. She’s been a wedding coordinator and owned a bar and grill for four years.

Her past experience has parlayed into her new job in different ways. Her bar had events planned for every weekend, which has prepared her to put on the chamber’s different expos and events.

Her first weekend on the job was the first expo the chamber had held in two years.

“Instantly, I knew what I wanted to change,” she said. “It wasn’t a family-friendly environment. I think there should be more interactive booths like face painting, maybe a cooking demo. ... We’re working on getting more interactive rather than just having somebody stand behind a booth and hand out a pamphlet. We want a reason for the public to come to our expo.”

Her background in real estate – as well as a degree in interior design from Western Technical College – has given her an eye for curb appeal.

Ferris teamed up with the Rotary Club to stain and paint the “Welcome to Richmond” signs. She’s also planted flowers under billboards.

“If you want people to stop, you have to polish the gem,” Ferris said. “It’s just been little things here and there, but it has made a difference.”

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