Building community, one Chamber event at a time
If you’re a Buffalonian, or are around the area, you might be familiar with Buffalo’s Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau – or, you might be one of many who just don’t really get what a Chamber entity is, or what its role is within a community.
Regardless of who you are, there’s a group for you! It is not uncommon to be confused with the role of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, and it certainly should not be the extent of our understanding.
So, no need to worry – Chamber President Sue Olmscheid and Office Manager Suzanne O’Dell are here to help. They not only share nicknames and the same initials, but between the two of them, their passion for Buffalo and its community abounds. They hope to get the confusion surrounding one of Buffalo’s key resources sorted out– because they want you to know who they are, and what a unified entity the Chamber truly is.
Buffalo’s Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau
It sure is a mouthful, isn’t it?
Unique in not only name alone, Buffalo’s Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau came on the scene in 1954, after a group of business owners and community members banded together in hopes to create an entity that would unite them with their community and provide resources for city growth.
And, many of those who began such a staple legacy in the Buffalo community are still around today; watching the results of their efforts and hard work unfold into the blossoming community that is Buffalo. According to the Articles of Incorporation of Buffalo Association of Commerce documented, dated July 14 of 1954, those beginning legacies included: Gordon Burkland, Fred Leinbach, Kenneth Ernesti, Harold Templin, Walter Peterson, Carroll Larson, and James Peterson, among other directors.
Thanks to them, businesses continue to come together to host events and educate fellow business-owners and clients about their trades, while Buffalonians exchange thoughts and let the community know what’s on their minds as clients.
Contrary to popular belief, the Chamber is not a city entity, nor is it managed by Buffalo’s city government. It is a 501(C)6 organization, and operates on its own budget. The Chamber is overseen by a Board of Directors, and exists to unite Buffalo’s citizen population with local businesses, while providing resources about the community.
“We truly promote shopping small and local,” Suzanne O’Dell, the Chamber’s office manager, commented. “It’s fantastic that we have people who have wanted to open businesses and reach members of the community; who have poured their life into this area. By promoting a shop-local mindset, we ensure they’re around for a long time, and that is powerful.”
The Chamber hosts a variety of events each year that unite community members and business-owners alike; creating connections and offering Buffalo the opportunity to grow together in unity. Among the biggest of their events is “Buffalo Days,” the city’s summer festival that is now held in June – after sporting a long history of fall schedules and a series of names involving “Harvest” titles, that is.
However locally-minded Buffalo’s Chamber may be, the history of the entity became known first in 1599, in France, when the statement “Chamber of Commerce” first appeared. Another official “Chamber” would follow some 65 years later, in what was then the Spanish Netherlands, and from there, the movement slowly became international.
The International Chamber of Commerce states that the entity of a Chamber is, “[to move] beyond individual interests to that of a collective group, the establishment of chambers provided merchants, traders, craftsmen and industrialists a public forum to discuss issues facing them as a business community. This representation of common interests became, and remains, the foundation of chambers of commerce worldwide.” So, while as a whole created to be a resource for business owners to talk about issues, time has brought the idea of a Chamber far.
President Sue Olmscheid states that, “The Chamber exists to educate the community – both business owners and citizens alike. It offers the opportunity to build relationships and bridge gaps – it brings the people to the doorstep of local shops, not just as a client base, but as a community. And, as that happens, community leaders begin to surface, and that’s what the Chamber truly exists to do.”
Many think that the Chamber is an extension of city government, but Olmscheid and O’Dell will tell you otherwise. While the Chamber of Commerce works closely with the city and has strong relationships with city government, while sharing the same vision for economy and growth, the Chamber is a separate entity. O’Dell and Olmscheid share a laugh, as they explain the countless phone calls they get regarding city issues.
“We just point them in the right direction,” Olmscheid states.
What’s unique about the Buffalo Chamber is that attached on the tail end of its name is “Tourism Bureau.” Olmscheid and O’Dell shared that this is not common for Chamber entities to offer a tourism platform in the same office – if anything, there are usually separate teams coordinating together in the same office, but this isn’t the case for Buffalo’s team. O’Dell and Olmscheid oversee both divisions of the office, and do so gladly.
The tourism aspect involves creating brochures and directories, with the shared goal of bringing business and tourism to the area.
O’Dell speaks to this. “It’s not often that you have as a city like Buffalo that offers such a thriving, original downtown area.” She adds, “Buffalo is consistently growing and becoming an extension of the metro, but we still are able to maintain a small ‘town’ feeling. That is something to promote and be proud of, and that’s the thing that brings people out here.”
The budget of the tourism aspect of the Chamber is funded, in large, by the hospitality tax that is garnered from Buffalo’s hotel district. That money, explains Olmscheid, is specifically for tourism efforts, and doesn’t go to anything else.
What’s more, O’Dell stated that the Buffalo Chamber is unique and fortunate enough to have a paid staff that works full-time, while many other communities have Chamber’s that are staffed by volunteers, which, of course, does not make them any less effective – just different in their individual roles within the community.
Buffalo’s Chamber proudly hosts 285 members on its roster. And, while the Chamber is consistently looking to grow and bring in members, its goal stands to continue to unite the city from both an industry and community standpoint. For more information on the Chamber, please visit https://www.buffalochamber.org/.
If you’re any kind of an active participant in city events, you’ve more than likely seen Sue Olmscheid around, either taking pictures or extending herself as an open resource to citizens. A Buffalonian since childhood, Olmscheid has spent her entire life in the area, and will admit it proudly.
“I’ve seen a lot of change,” she comments. “It’s a natural part of a growing city, and since it’s changed so much, I’ve never really thought about leaving. Buffalo is just home.”
Olmscheid grew up on Dean Lake, outside the city. She was “one of those kids” who was always hitching rides with friends; throwing her bike in the back of a friend’s truck and trekking into town to hang out at popular hot-spots. Some of her “greatest memories” are days spent at the theatre, and walking downtown to the ice cream shops and finding penny candies at the various stores around the block.
A graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, Olmscheid has a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Psychology, and spent the first 20 years of her career as a human resource generalist. In 2005, she and her sister, Cindy, opened “Lillian’s,” a shop in downtown Buffalo, right off of Central Avenue.
Her history with the Chamber was not necessarily planned, but came at “just the right time” in her life. She shares, “I served on the Chamber Board as a representative of Lillian’s. I really always thought it would be cool to be a part of the Chamber office, since I was a business owner and had the experience of owning a shop and being a citizen.”
In 2015, Olmscheid and her sister decided to change things up at their store, and let them, in a sense, “do their own thing,” which did not necessarily require as much managerial responsibility. When that happened, she applied for a position at the Chamber, and took it when it was offered.
“It was really my dream job, and came at just the right moment in my life. I get to help bridge that gap as a business owner and a community member, and that is amazing for me, “she explained. “Now, I have a one-mile commute to both the Chamber and Lillian’s, and I absolutely love it!”
Most times when you spot Suzanne O’Dell, she’s probably behind the camera taking pictures. A well-spotted face of the Chamber, O’Dell has seen her fair share of city-wide events, and taken enough photographs to last a lifetime. If you ever saw the files on her computer, you’d see why she’s such a valuable asset.
O’Dell has been the Office Manager of the Chamber since the fall of 2015, starting only a few months after Olmscheid. However, her history of service with the Chamber begins in 2008, where she worked for a year before leaving in 2009. It was only when Olmscheid became the President and told the Board of Directors she wanted O’Dell back that she found her way to the Chamber’s door, once more.
Born and raised in Moorhead, O’Dell trekked out to Wright County after getting married, and Buffalo is where she and her husband decided to start their life together. That was in 1999 - and they’ve been around, since.
“I can remember driving around and really just liking Buffalo,” she said. “It was progressive and looked alive, like it was growing. There was a DQ and a Target, so that was a plus for us!”
She adds, “Buffalo didn’t look concerning, and it didn’t look shabby or anything like the small towns looked on TV. I can remember going into the DQ to have lunch, seeing how the business highlighted its youth with all the sports pictures, and thinking that they valued their kids, and that is what I wanted out of a community. And, here we are, twenty-some years later.”
O’Dell spent 17 years in education, working as a United for Youth advocate. She’ll tell you without hesitation that organization is her thing, and that she couldn’t imagine a job that didn’t highlight the community and promote the area.
“Moorhead was where I was raised,” O’Dell chimed in. “But Buffalo is my home. I know more about this city and this area than I do of Moorhead, and that’s what I want – I want to promote this place as often as I can, and I guess between the both of us, that’s what we do in our spare time, too.”
In the beginning of this year, O’Dell and Olmscheid are strongly promoting the Kites on Ice Festival, which is slated for Saturday, February 9. This event is the first of its kind in Buffalo, and will feature an array of kites and their fliers.
“Think Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade big, but with kites,” Olmscheid explained. “We hope this becomes the first annual, and that it does well enough to come back in 2020.”
The event will be hosted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Buffalo Lake, and promises high-flying fun. Enthusiasts from around the state will be present to fly their masterpieces, while a kite-dancing treat is on the schedule of events in the afternoon, too. The event is free, and the Chamber asks that you join them.
Other chamber events include: Buffalo Days, which is June 9 -16; the Art and Craft Festival, August 17 from 9 to 3:30 p.m.; and Deck the Halls, December 7 from 3 to 5 p.m. Be sure to see a full calendar of events with details at the Chamber’s website, or follow them on Facebook.