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Katie Miller takes the helm at Cooney chamber

New director ready to put marketing skills to test, work with city

Jan. 16, 2013

Katie Miller recently took the helm as executive director of the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce. Miller replaces Pat Ornberg who announced her retirement late last year. Ornberg was hailed as instrumental in helping the chamber transition to a more member- and business-focused chamber. In the new role the chamber handed off many community events like parades and street dances for more member networking events and professional groups.

Now that Miller is taking over as leader of re-focused Oconomowoc chamber the Focus asked her a few questions to get to know her more, and see what plans she had in her new role. Here's what she had to say.

Q Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

A Certainly! My husband and I moved to Oconomowoc from the greater Milwaukee area nearly 16 years ago. We love living, and raising our two girls, here. My educational background is in communications and business management. Professionally, I've been fortunate to work with some wonderful organizations. The majority of my experience is in nonprofit management and fundraising, marketing and community relations.

Q Over the past two years the chamber has charged itself to be more of a business chamber rather than a community chamber. That being said, does the chamber see itself taking more stands on political issues, or is being a business chamber more about networking, educating, etc.?

A Yes, Yes and Yes! The Chamber began a strategic planning process last fall. Part of that work was to survey our members to learn about what they gain from their Chamber membership and how the Chamber can best serve their needs.

What we learned is that our members look to us to meet four primary needs: promotion, advocacy, networking and education. We have established a task force of local business leaders and Chamber members to take an in-depth look at each of these and help us develop our action plans for best serving our members in these focus areas.

Q Following up from previous question, does the chamber still need to interact with the community to show it is a vibrant, engaged, relevant group, or can it do so simply through its members and prospective members?

A We believe that our work is vital to the community and that the community is vital to our work. Even though the Chamber has stepped away from organizing community events like parades and street dances, we continue to work closely with many organizations, big and small, doing all kinds of good work to make Oconomowoc great. The Chamber supports the community-at-large by promoting a strong and diverse business community.

Q What parts of the job do you see yourself jumping into head first and being most passionate about? What parts to you feel you need to sit back and take it in for a while before taking action?

A As a marketing person, I'm really excited to dig into that. I think this is an area where I can start contributing pretty quickly. The Chamber does a lot of exciting things. Our challenge is sharing that excitement and building momentum for our businesses and programs.

Q What was your initial reaction to the proposed developments downtown?

A As a resident of the downtown area, I'm excited about the improvements that have been made over the last few years and those that are in the works. They have, and will, help Oconomowoc project a vibrant image and be welcoming to visitors. The Chamber encourages development downtown and throughout Oconomowoc because they will help grow our city and provide exciting opportunities for our residents and business.

Q Did you present any ideas for the chamber during your interview and hiring process? If so, can you share some?

A I remember sharing that in my experience changes in leadership, especially in smaller organizations, are often viewed as a negative because they cause uncertainty which creates angst. I think, instead, change should be thought of as a positive opportunity to look at an agency's programs, activities and operations through a different lens. Change leads to growth and growth leads to success. That's what we all want.

Q Now that you've been in the office a bit, have any of your original perceptions of the chamber changed? If so, which?

A Before starting in this role, I was aware of the Chamber and had a general idea about what they did. I've now learned that what I knew was just the tip of the iceberg! I am incredibly impressed by the breadth and depth of the work the Chamber does to support our members' interests and a healthy business environment in general.

Q Oconomowoc has a strong mix of manufacturing, professional and retail businesses. The professional and retail businesses might look to a chamber to help bring people in the door. How can the chamber, with its focus as a business chamber do that?

A Our role as a Chamber is to support our members' success by offering useful programming, educational and professional development opportunities as well as economies of scale for things like marketing and promotional activities. Helping our members promote their businesses is a primary focus for us. For example, last year we launched the Buy Local program aimed at encouraging people to shop and do business with local companies. Shop Second Saturday came out of that effort. The Chamber promotes Shop Second Saturday each month and organizes a raffle for anyone who makes a purchase at a participating business. Participation in Shop Second Saturday is open to all Chamber members at no cost.

Q City officials have talked about the idea of the chamber working more closely with the Downtown Oconomowoc Merchants Association. What are your thoughts on that?

Everyone I've met and talked with so far has expressed nothing but optimism and support for the relationship between the Chamber and Downtown Oconomowoc (formerly DOMA). While the Chamber encompasses business throughout the greater Oconomowoc area, many of our members are part of the downtown business community. Our circles definitely overlap and I think we have some great work ahead of us!

Q There's been discussion of Oconomowoc needing to make itself a destination city. What do you think are some ways to do that?

A I haven't had a chance to delve into this yet. From conversations I've had with key city leaders, I feel confident that the Mayor and his staff have some very exciting plans for the future. I look forward to seeing them unfold and working with the city in whatever ways are appropriate.

Q Now that you're at the helm, has the chamber board given you specific direction on things to be accomplished?

A Not yet. The board has been very gracious in allowing me time to get settled. Right now I'm focused on maintaining the Chamber's momentum and programming and meeting as many of our members, community volunteers and leaders as I possibly can. I anticipate that my priorities will evolve as we continue to flesh out our plans for 2013 and beyond.

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North Shore Bank-Taste of Lake Country: 5 p.m. July 29, 4 p.m. July 30, Pewaukee Beach Front, 120 W. Wisconsin Ave., Pewaukee. Headline Friday night is The Toys and Saturday night The Love Monkeys. Free.

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