Chamber of Commerce serving members in bigger, better ways


BY JAMES LAWSON
jlawson@kenoshanews.com
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Cautiously optimistic.

That may be the best way to characterize Lou Molitor’s description of his members’ approach to 2014.

“They’re looking forward to business expansion and growth,” said Molitor, executive director of the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce.

“They’re not doing cartwheels yet, and they won’t be able to do cartwheels until we’re in a position to hire more people and have freer access to capital.”

Molitor said that during the last several years many business owners tried to maintain the status quo. That appears to be changing.

“I see more marketing. I see more networking. I see businesses wanting to get out there to attract new customers more vigorously,” Molitor said. “So I think it’s going to be a better year.”

And why does he feel positive about the months ahead?

“Because Kenosha County seems to be on everybody’s lips, on everybody’s minds,” he said.

The buzz is the result of some high-profile businesses expanding or putting down stakes in Kenosha County in 2013. And on the heels of that momentum, the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce faces the challenges of serving its more than 600 members in bigger and better ways.

Chamber programs and services

The chamber, which is celebrating its 98th anniversary this year, is responsible for networking, leadership events and services such as Business After 5, Kenosha Consumer Expo, Business To Business Expo and Leadership Kenosha. The chamber also collaborates with the Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club of Kenosha & Racine and is a supporting partner of Y-Link, a group of young leaders in Kenosha.

Additionally, the chamber recently announced a new Business and Education Partners Program that is a collaboration of the Kenosha Unified School District, Gateway Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Carthage College and manufacturers in Kenosha County, with Xten Industries filling the latter partnership role this year. The program is designed to connect high school freshmen with institutions of higher learning and with local manufacturers to provide them with experiences and information as they think about education and career plans.

The chamber submitted the grant for funding and is conducting the program. Funding for this new initiative is from AT&T.

In collaboration with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., the chamber also would like to provide more educational opportunities for small business owners in 2014, Molitor said, noting that the opportunities could include business plan writing, accounting and succession planning.

“They (WWBIC) are the main provider of these (classes). We’d like to get more chamber members involved,” Molitor said. “The chamber would like to provide that to our member businesses, and we also would like to focus a little more on small retail business education, services in order for them to be successful and prosper — more networking, more marketing.”

To accomplish that goal, the chamber is organizing a retail roundtable to offer small retail business owners the opportunity to support each other and share best practices. The first retail roundtable should be in April, Molitor said, adding he is cautiously optimistic that more retail business will come to Kenosha.

“Now is the time to build on that momentum (from 2013),” he said.

Editor’s note -

This is the third in a six-part series on the economy. Wednesday’s focus is on Dennis DuChene, Kenosha Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president

Who is Lou Molitor?

Title -

Executive director of the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce.

Background -

The chamber has more than 600 members. Molitor has been executive director since 2008. Previously, he was president of the 400-member Lake County Chamber of Commerce in Gurnee, Ill. He also has served as president of business operations and as co-executive director of Zion-based Northpointe Resources, a $6 million non-profit agency serving people with disabilities in northern Lake County, Ill.

Molitor is the national president of the National Exchange Club, a 100-year-old service organization. He also serves on several non-profit boards, including the Campaign Cabinet for the United Way of Kenosha, the Women and Children’s Horizons Foundation, the Kenosha County Workforce Development, the Kenosha Business Advisory Board and the Lakeshore Business Improvement District.

Education -

Molitor is a graduate of Marquette University, where he studied psychology. He has earned an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University.

Personal -

A lifetime Kenosha resident, he lives in the city with his wife, Patti, and daughter Samantha.


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