A weekend flurry of business and economic news in the lakes area came on the eve of the annual meeting of the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.
Sunday's headlines in the Dispatch told the story:
* Wausau Papers buys Missota.
* Pine Meadows Golf Course is up for grabs.
* Gander Mountain will fill part of the soon-to-be vacant Wal-Mart store.
This and other growth has helped the chamber grow to an all-time high 1,250 members. The year of growth was capped by the merger with the Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point chamber.
Now that the former Potlatch paper mill has a new owner smiles may fill the room tonight at the Breezy Point Resort when the chamber opens its annual meeting with registration at 5:30 p.m. and a recognition program and year in review at 6 p.m.
"I understand it's going to be very, very positive for the community," Lisa Paxton, the chamber's chief executive officer, said Sunday when asked about the paper mill transaction. "They have years of experience in the paper industry and have a proven track record of success."
Jeff Fox, outgoing chamber board chair who is the chief financial officer at Nor-Son, sees good signs for the lakes area.
"I think it's vibrant," Fox said Sunday. "It's a growing, exciting time right now with all the building and construction and the Missota deal."
Fox will be replaced by Nancy Koch of North Wedge Greenhouse in Crosslake. She will be the first board chair from Crosslake. The Brainerd and Crosslake chambers merged five years ago.
"This is further proof of the size of our region now," Paxton said."
The growth comes as the chamber is about to celebrate its centennial. The business organization can trace its roots to 1905 under a variety of names.
The area's transition in those 100 years from logging to railroad to tourism to diverse industry and business provides challenges and opportunities for the chamber, Paxton said.
"It makes the chamber a very exciting and dynamic organization because of that diversity," Paxton said.
Looking to the future, Fox and Paxton pointed to the welcome center under construction south of Brainerd on Highway 371. Early plans called for moving the chamber offices to the center. But the board reconsidered and instead will remain in its office under the downtown water tower and locate sort of a branch office at the welcome center with a brochure display and gift shop.
Paxton said the chamber also will focus on volunteer leadership development.
"It was great," Fox said of his year as board chair. "The biggest thing is it just comes across how much the chamber does do."
He feels the chamber must not "stretch itself so thin that it's not accomplishing anything." Fox believes the primary challenges for 2005 will be finishing fundraising for the welcome center and integrating the Pequot-Breezy members.
The annual meeting will include food, silent auction and door prizes after the recognition program. Paxton said the changed format is designed to increase networking among chamber members.
ROY MILLER may be reached at 855-5855 or at roy.miller at brainerddispatch.com.
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