The blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps marched across Wisconsin, starting from La Crosse and ushering a synchronized color guard—with flags and rifles—right up to Stillwater, Minn. In step with that color guard more than 10 years ago, Robin Anthony, who today is Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce president, saw the city for the first time. Originally from
St. Cloud, Minn., she fell in love with what Erica Oesterreich, the membership manager of the chamber who has worked there for six years, identifies as its most commonly sited quality: how beautiful the city is.
Prior to this year, her first as president, Anthony looked at community the way a marching band director does a band: from above. She was a legislative coordinator in the governor’s office and worked as election director of Washington County before landing a corporate job.
The death of a family friend helped her realize she couldn’t continue on with something she didn’t like. She opened her own business. Her event management company is called Party On Stillwater.
Still, a lot of Anthony’s leadership experience has come from choreographing marching bands across Minnesota. “You’re always just as strong as your weakest person,” she says of the challenge in bringing people together. To that end, Anthony doesn’t identify her leadership as leading so much as enabling others to do well via collaboration.
After all, tourist hotspot and prime-retirement-plot Stillwater doesn’t need much of a pep rally. “People have been here for generations; there’s so much pride,” Oesterreich says. Anthony’s job is to bring out what’s already there. Residents voted to rebrand the chamber according to its mission, with the tagline, “Bridging business and community.” “You need one healthy for the other to be healthy,” Anthony says.
So far in her first year as president, Anthony has tallied milestone participation, chamber members growing from 342 to more than 500. She initiated local business partnerships—between an insurance company and an adoption service, between Gammy and Gumpy’s and area restaurants. She christened the new Winter Gala in February, where community-nominated awards go out to area businesses, nonprofits, volunteers and educators. And she helped bring in the ice castles last winter.
As far as community, Anthony points to the city’s nearly 50 nonprofits as evidence that people here “thrive helping one another.” Businesses, too, are local, and “when people think of buying from a local business, it’s bigger than just helping the business, because local people own those businesses, and those dollars stay in the community,” Oesterreich says.
But veteran businesses often haven’t updated their marketing strategies. That’s why the chamber has made education its focus going into next year. At new monthly Learning Table Luncheons, presenters discuss topics such as self-promotion, social media and how to craft an elevator pitch; the event is held on the second Wednesday of each month.
The Young Professionals Group has expanded from eight to 10 people to 30–40, meeting once a month and giving the opportunity to “young professionals who might feel too uncomfortable, or intimidated, to go to big mixers.”
In line with this education theme is the city's kids: “We need to bring school pride back into the high school,” Anthony says. On September 15, the chamber will partner with Stillwater High School for a carnival-themed homecoming festival in light of the school’s 1,000th football game. The upcoming year marks the first-time newcomers will comprise half the school, as a vanguard group of ninth-graders enters the school along with tenth—an opportunity to teach a new generation the value of community.
Check out Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce events at the website here.