In the 1920s, around the time Calvin Coolidge became president, a small group of businessmen in White Bear Lake decided to band together to help strengthen commerce in the area. Today, the group is called the White Bear Area Chamber and has a membership of around 360 local business owners and businesses.
“There’s always been an interest in communities to establish a voice for the commercial sector,” says executive director Tom Snell. He describes the founding members’ mission: “To help promote the community, promote jobs and promote the needs of businesses and the other aspects of the community.” This is exactly what the chamber is still aiming to do today.
The chamber, now more than 90 years in existence, gained Snell as executive director four years ago after his 26-year run in the same position for Metro North Chamber in Anoka County. “I’ve been involved in public advocacy-type programs since I left college,” Snell says.
Before college, Snell was building his connection to the community. “I’ve lived in White Bear on and off all my life,” he says. “I grew up here, went to school here, so I’ve got a strong affinity with White Bear.”
After graduating from Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a bachelor’s degree in political science, then jetting off to San Francisco for his master’s, Snell returned to run the Minnesota Senior Federation, then found his first position in a chamber of commerce.
In his four years at the White Bear Area Chamber, Snell has made his mark by spreading his passion for the community. “Tom does not hesitate to take on difficult issues that most people would shy away from,” says Joy Erickson, a chamber director and Realtor with Edina Realty. “His persistence and passion for the community is unprecedented, and we are lucky to have him.” Erickson, a chamber member for nearly 10 years who just finished her term in December, is “a big believer in helping the community and being a part of the chamber,” and says the benefits of being a member are endless.
“You get way more out of it than you put into it,” Bill Jacobson, past president and an advisor on the board, says. “We’ve done a lot of nice business with chamber members, and some of it is a direct result of meeting them through the chamber.” Jacobson, of Pine Tree Apple Orchard, understands the importance of business in White Bear Lake, given that his family has owned the orchard since 1958 and he was president of the board in 1991.
Aside from new business, benefits include knowledge of chamber activity. “A lot of my friends ask me first about local events,” Erickson says.
The events are open to the public and vary from simple networking to speakers—politicians, authors and industry notables—to debates. “We typically have [events] almost every week,” Snell says. The chamber hosts networking events a couple times a month, legislative affairs programs once a month, special events several times a year—including a gala and golf tournament—and occasional business education programs for members. With all these events, the chamber board meets 12 times a year for planning and connecting.
Past speakers include Grover Norquist, a tax reform leader; David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s budget director; and Paul Douglas, meteorologist.
The chamber is active in trying to change state regulations, and focusing on workforce development and transportation. “We have a very active government affairs program in our chamber,” Snell says.
A recent debate centered on senior entitlement programs, “because it’s going to be such a big issue with Social Security and Medicare,” with the aging baby boomer population, Snell says. Skip Humphrey, former state attorney general and senator, and Tim Penny, former Democratic congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, led the discussion. “We had 30 high school kids in our meeting along with the business community,” Snell says. The event was a testament to the fact that being a part of the chamber is not just about the bettering of current business owners, but the education of future business owners, and encouraging those future business owners to settle in White Bear Lake.
“The chamber represents the commercial sector, and that encompasses a lot of things,” Snell explains. “In order to have a successful business community, you need to have a successful school system … you need to have the type of infrastructure in the area to provide easy transportation.” It’s about growing and sustaining a healthy community, which means volunteering to help those in need as well.
“We have lots of big volunteer opportunities,” Snell says. “We have an ambassador committee to welcome new businesses.” Manitou Days are another big volunteer opportunity, and the chamber regularly works with the Women’s Shelter and Feed My Starving Children.
“Our goal,” Snell says, “is to build a strong, vibrant commercial sector that can attract and keep top notch employees in our area.”
Business: Realtor with Edina Realty
Role on the board: Past director (completed term in December 2014).
How the chamber helps: “I have enjoyed everyone I have met through the chamber, and it has had a very positive impact on my business.”
Business: Heraeus Medical Components
Role on the board: Advisor
How the chamber helps: “Serving as an advisor has helped me personally to better understand the area and the issues facing businesses in the White Bear area.”
White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce
4751 Highway 61 // White Bear Lake
651.429.8593 // whitebearchamber.com
April 2: Professional Development
April 7: Perk Up! Morning Networking
April 14: Home at Last Tour
April 23: Women in Business Network
Learn more about the events at the chamber website.