PINE RIVER -- Longtime Pine River businessman John Wetrosky became Pine River Chamber of Commerce executive director June 1.
"I've been thinking about it for a long time," he said of his decision to seek the position, which was expanded from a part-time secretary to full-time executive director this year.
Wetrosky envisions the new position as one combining tourism promotion with economic development activities. Wetrosky has worked hard in both areas through the years as a volunteer.
Born in northern Iowa, he moved to this area in 1970 when his parents sold their farm and bought a resort on Pelican Lake.
He had graduated from college with a major in wildlife management and minor in journalism at that time. He thought he would just help his parents move, then return to Iowa.
Instead, he fell in love with the area and ended up working for Marv Koep's Bait for eight years where he had daily contact with fishing guides in their earlier years with names like Lindner and Winkelman.
"It was the most fun experience," he recalled of his learning experience in giving tips to the 80 to 85 percent seasonal and tourist clientele at Koep's.
In 1975, Wetrosky married Pine River native Jackie Silbaugh, whose parents had opened Silbaugh's Department Store in 1946. Walt and Jeanette Silbaugh sold the store to Jackie and John in 1978. The Wetroskys continue to operate that store.
Both have been active in the Pine River Chamber of Commerce and have been recognized with the chamber's distinguished service award.
The last two years, Wetrosky also has worked part-time as Pine River State Bank marketing and advertising manager.
Wetrosky was involved in setting up Pine River's original chamber building in 1984. He has been involved in the project to build the new information center along the Paul Bunyan Trail. It officially opened with a June 4 open house.
When Baker Industries closed the former Durkee Manufacturing plant at Pine River in the late 1980s, Wetrosky helped start the Pine River Economic Development Commission, then encouraged Cass County to form a county economic development agency.
Pine River also obtained a grant in those years for a revolving loan business fund. About 14 or 15 businesses now benefit from that fund, he said.
Job losses from the manufacturing plant have been replaced by some new, smaller businesses and expanded existing ones hiring five to a dozen more employees, he said.
Wetrosky sees directing the new information center as an opportunity not only to expand information services to tourists, but also to allow him to expand economic development services for area businesses.
He is one of about 10 investors in the Barclay West downtown Pine River expansion area. Once main utility lines and the county road connection to Barclay Avenue are installed, Wetrosky expects developers to present proposals.
"It's a real chance for some exciting things to happen here," he said.
The chamber information center between the trail and Barclay West property will offer a full service rest stop for visitors, including bike racks.
Wetrosky said he expects to have time to attend more trade shows than the former part-time secretary. He plans to coordinate tourism services with neighboring chambers from Brainerd to Grand Rapids and Park Rapids.
There will be an Internet connection at the information center for visitors and residents to use, he said.
On the economic development side of his program, Wetrosky hopes to offer business seminars and increase the connection between businesses and the city of Pine River for future planning.
The center will be open seven days a week. Hours Monday through Saturday will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday hours will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Chamber volunteers will staff the office along with Wetrosky.
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