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Editorial: Continue talks about future of ALEDA, CVB and chamber

With the opening of the executive director positions at both the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, it is the perfect opportunity for the boards of both of these organizations, along with community leaders, to look at their futures and whether there are any possibilities for collaboration.

The Chamber of Commerce had been under the leadership of the late Randy Kehr for many years, followed by longtime business leader Tom Newell, who served as interim executive director until recent weeks.

ALEDA announced last month its executive director, Ryan Nolander, was selected to serve as president of Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. His last day will be no later than June 1.

On top of that, Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Susie Petersen has stated she is looking to retire in 2020.

That means three of Albert Lea’s most influential organizations are or will be seeing changes in leadership.

Some people in the community have discussed having the same leader for two or three of the organizations, with separate boards for each remaining. Though each organization has its own means of funding, arrangements could be made to divide up the funding for the position based off of how much of that person’s job is spent on duties for each organization.

Funding for the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau comes through lodging tax at Albert Lea’s hotels. The organization also partners with other organizations such as Explore Minnesota to advertise for events and obtain grant funding for events.

As Petersen says, “Our job is to put heads on beds — to bring people to town.”

Funding for the Chamber of Commerce comes through membership dues and fundraising for the organization. The chamber represents over 450 member businesses, ranging from small businesses to large industrial companies, and provides opportunities for members to take part in social and business events and develop relationships, according to its website. The chamber also provides seminars and workshops and other benefits to its members.

The Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, made up of the Albert Lea Port Authority and Greater Jobs Inc., is self-funded and self-sustaining and relies on income from rentals, sales, investments and memberships. None of these three rely on city or county funding, and none utilize taxpayer dollars.

Though there’s not a once-size-fits-all approach for every community in Minnesota, some cities have had success from combining their chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus or economic development authorities under the same leadership — or under the same roof. On the other hand, some have gone the other direction where they used to have combined leadership and now are separating. Albert Lea has seen it both ways.

The success of one of these organizations depends on the success of the other two.

We recognize it is too soon to tell what will come out of the discussions or if ideas of any type of combined leadership will be feasible, but we encourage the boards for each entity to look into the possibility.

Change should not be made just for the sake of change, but instead should be made on what will be best for our own community.

Now is the time to consider and research all possibilities.