Local view: Chamber should focus on business, not politicsI think the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce needs a name change to the Duluth Area Political Chamber of Commerce.
By: Charles M. Bell, for the News Tribune
I think the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce needs a name change to the Duluth Area Political Chamber of Commerce.
Let’s face facts. For years now the guest speakers at the annual meeting of this business-representing organization mostly have been politicians. Not that I’m against politicians. I have a deep regard for people who put themselves out there on the front lines and a special respect for people who can win at that game. But we need to change the chamber’s name to reflect its apparent agenda of the past decade.
The business world today is fast-paced and changing by the minute. Wouldn’t it be more important for the chamber to bring someone here whose insights local business leaders would like to hear and whose experiences ratify why we are in business and in the entrepreneurial world?
My youngest daughter graduated from the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota. Steve Forbes spoke there. Have you ever been to a commencement when you wanted the speaker to keep going? That was it.
John G. Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management, spoke to the Scottish Rite Clinic’s annual dinner this past August and talked about the breakdown of the culture of Wall Street. He chaired the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
Were you there on the arena floor in the early 1970s when F. Lee Bailey spoke to the chamber at the Duluth Day luncheon? There were 2,000 in attendance. He was so good you knew you were fortunate to be in the audience.
Hughs Rudd, the national newscaster, was here. He smoked two cigarettes at the same time during his delivery. He was so smart and had great experiences and insights to share.
If the chamber doesn’t think it can connect with anyone other than politicians it can take a good look around this community. There are a lot of people who are connected to people who can get these people’s attention. Our community has people who very quietly … know people. Imagine having Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, speak next year. Or Robert Gates, former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense. Oh, that’s right, he’s already been here. He spoke eight years ago at the Eagle Scout recognition dinner at the DECC.
If it’s about the money, then what about the profit margin at this dinner with all the sponsors recruited? Platinum-, gold-, silver- and bronze-level sponsors, etc., pay escalating amounts. And the tables are bought by businesses. I think the IRS should take a look at the Duluth chamber’s balance statement to decide whether it really is a nonprofit.
Is it serving the business community or is it profiting a little too much from it while increasing staff size to augment its money machine?
A sideline to that: if the chamber raises the kind of money I think it does, who gets skipped over? Lifehouse? CHUM? The soup kitchen? Goodwill? The Boys and Girls Club? The Boy Scouts of America? The Girl Scouts? The United Way? Others?
So it always goes back to leadership. You have to ask: Whose agenda is this really about?
I’m just not spouting off here and now. I’ve conveyed my opinion many times to the leadership that keeps on charging the money and setting the directions. I also was on the chamber board in the mid-1980s and was chairman to boot in 1986-’87. I still believe some of the things we used to do were the right things to do for our membership and community.
The direction today both financially and politically is very confusing, however. Perhaps the Duluth chamber should see what the Hermantown, Superior, Two Harbors and Cloquet chambers are doing for their members. That would be a start.
Will I be there next month for the annual meeting and dinner? You bet I will. Always thought the chamber was right up there with baseball, apple pie and Boy Scouts. Plus, a politician is speaking.
Charles M. Bell is a Duluth businessman.