'A New Adventure' for Chris Blasius
3 Jun 2019
Over the past six years, River Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Blasius has organized many events, brought about some changes to local festivals, helped start new events and services for chamber members, and made some hard decisions.
Her last hard decision was the choice to leave the chamber and take a new position.
"I couldn't put my finger on anything specific to make me consider this transition," Blasius said. "I would say the area that nudged me is ... a big event is right around the corner, and I'm just not as excited about it as maybe I used to be."
Blasius said she feels the Chamber CEO needs to be "100%" excited for events, for making changes and difficult decisions.
"I'm not sure I'm 100% like I was a few years ago," she said. "So that's kind of prompting my decision to try something different."
Blasius became the River Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO in March 2013, just in time for the annual St. Patrick's Day event.
The chamber had not yet started working with the city and police department to have vehicles towed if they're parked on Main Street in the temporary no-parking zone for the bed races.
"At one point, in the middle of the bed races I could hear all kinds of 'oh my God' and gasps," Blasius said. "Here one of the bed races went around the corner, and slid into one of the vehicles."
Blasius, caught off guard and brand new to the Chamber, said she wasn't sure what to do.
But, police officer Bill Rasmussen, with longtime chamber connections, did.
"That is the type of support I've received the entire time I've been here," Blasius said. "There's always someone there to lend a hand to get you through any bumps you might encounter and then celebrate the successes as well."
Fortunately, in this incident, no one was injured and the vehicle's owner was understanding, Blasius said.
A lot has changed during Blasius' six years as CEO. That includes the chamber heading up a new festival: the Bacon Bash. Blasius is "very proud" to have been part of the team that first brought Bacon Bash to River Falls.
"In a way, it's hard to imagine River Falls before Bacon Bash," said Blasius, "and to know that we've been able to grow that event to where it is today, and bring such a following every year."
Since Blasius started, River Falls Days has also been moved from its former location near First National Bank to its current location at Heritage Park and Maple Street, near City Hall, 222 Lewis St.
The Chamber has also relocated its office from 214 N. Main St. to the lower level of City Hall.
"It's been nice to move to this location," Blasius said. "We've got a beautiful building. We have access to nice conference rooms ... a lot of additional benefits associated with this location."
Blasius said the City Hall location also helps strengthen the chamber's ties with the city.
The Chamber used to organize and run the tractor pull that takes place during River Falls Days, working closely with the FFA. Now, the FFA Alumni have taken over that task. Blasius said it was a difficult decision, but it was a win-win for all, because the FFA alumni have had the resources to grow the event, and make it "bigger and better" than before. This freed up chamber resources, allowing them to refocus on things like the Bacon Bash.
Right now, the chamber is in the midst of transitioning its pay structure for members. The old pay structure is based on the number of employees a business had. Blasius said if a business gained more employees, it could end up paying higher dues.
"It was almost penalizing members for growth," Blasius said. "We're here to support them to provide value in growing and being a successful business."
So, the chamber is switching to a structure where members, instead of paying based on the number of employees, pay based on which package of chamber services they select.
Blasius said this is not new to the chamber industry, but the River Falls Chamber is the first in this region to transition to this approach.
Blasius faced some challenges over the past six years too.
"The chamber is run as a small business," she said. "And It's extremely challenging to run a small business.
"I'm the HR director. I'm the finance director. But I'm also the person that's picking up trash at River Falls Days at 3 in the morning."
Blasius said another challenge has been representing a diverse membership of nonprofits, small businesses and large industrial customers, each with different needs.
"So, our organization has to make tough decisions that aren't going to benefit every one of those sectors," Blasius said.
She said the chamber has to make decisions that will benefit the majority, but may not benefit a specific business.
A new adventure
Blasius said she will miss the people she's worked with, including member representatives, the board of directors, the staff, and more. She will still be able to see all these people in her new position, just in a different capacity.
Blasius has accepted the position of General Manager for the Best Western in River Falls, located in the same building as Junior's Restaurant and Tap House.
"I'm really excited about a new adventure," Blasius said. "When I started at the chamber six years ago, I didn't have an understanding of the chamber industry. I didn't have any experience in it, but kind of dove in heard first, and through that time I've learned and have gotten to where I am today."
She's taking a similar approach to her new position.
"I don't have that direct hotel management experience, but have been in a hospitality industry, running a business at the chamber for the last six years," she said. "I'm excited to dive in and learn about what relationships have already been developed and how I can leverage that hopefully to the next level."
As she starts her new adventure, Blasius hopes to stay involved with the chamber as a member representative and as an event volunteer in the future.
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