Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Chamber of ambition

Every town should have a Chris Nolte or two woven into its fabric, even if for an all-too brief time. As the first to ever serve as CEO of both the Chamber of Commerce and the SLADC industrial development group, Nolte will leave a legacy behind as he resigns after two years at the helm.

First, in what he has been - aggressively, relentlessly, unswayably optimistic. One couldn't come in contact with the man without coming away believing that all things are possible.

Be it a huge state park, community center, aquatic center, a depot restoration or a new life for an old ballroom, a break-through new business or a big new event, Chris Nolte believes Storm Lake can do it, and that it's all surely just around the next exciting corner. There is no place for cynicism or doubt.

Second, in what he has said. Nolte's been a steadfast promoter and defender of his community. Woe be to the person who suggests Storm Lake or its people to be lacking in some way. Coming from Nolte, there is nothing false or forced in this expression of pride, and it is a form of community loyalty that has become rare.

Third, in what he has done. To be honest, the dual jobs given to Nolte are probably more than any one person can hope to do. Fortunately, the community has found creative, get-it-done staff people at both the chamber and SLADC to do a lot of heavy lifting in pursuit of the goals. Nolte is the first to credit them, the last to accept any for himself.

In his time here, the chamber of commerce has changed markedly. What once was largely a group dedicated to serving the needs of the member businesses, it has turned into a community-boosting clearinghouse - hosting more events, coordinating volunteerism, bringing entertaining opportunities, recruiting and fostering new business, developing tourism, supporting new committees, training for better service, and pushing for community projects far beyond its own scope.

And in his time here, SLADC has changed just as dramatically. Like other cities, the program was not so long ago about chasing smokestacks - be it spending money to woo factories that were unlikely to ever come here, or building an expensive spec building that has never been occupied. While a few cities got lucky with such efforts, many didn't, especially those without the access to interstate and larger airports for shipping, or the high unemployment rates that equal a cheap, available workforce to some potential employers.

Nolte and SLADC have come to realize that there is more ways than one to skin this development cat. It can come in new quality-of-life amenities, tourism opportunities, business incubation, entrepreneurial spirit, growth of the existing companies in the city.

It might not be as splashy as landing a big company with hundreds of employees, but along with good efforts to advertise and keep the community in front of potential developing firms, this steady "growth from the inside" approach can be very positive for Storm Lake.

To be honest, a lot of new factories and labor-intensive plants may not be the future Storm Lakers want, anyway. There are meatpacking jobs aplenty, and a good selection of other labor jobs, almost more than our housing system can accommodate.

A town built around amazing natural resources and an upscale university need not be a "factory town" - there are enough of those around Iowa already.

The Chamber of Commerce and SLADC have grown and adjusted mightily in recent years. The community as a whole has benefited, as these agencies have come to pull in tandem. Nolte, along with his co-workers, and the strong boards and supporters of both the chamber and SLADC, deserve great credit.

I'll miss Chris, as a sunny friend, energetic co-conspirator, a generator of laughter and a fellow lover of music. Nolte the professional leader will be missed just as much in Storm Lake, but as he moves on, a lot of what he has given us will go on.

Perhaps we'll be just a little quicker to speak out for, and defend when necessary, our own home community. Perhaps we will all be a little more adaptable, a little more apt to say yes when a volunteer is needed, a little more likely to attend a meeting, make a call, share an idea, write a check for a good community project when we can. And just perhaps, we will all be just a bit more relentlessly optimistic - not a bad skill to learn.