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Chamber celebrates big year in 'big easy' style

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Ten Mardi Gras-themed desserts were auctioned off at the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting and award banquet. (Photo by Samantha Bengs)2 / 3
Tammy Wadley, left, Dana Borgschatz and Jonas Gonstead hold a #MyRedWing banner as chamber staff snapped a group photo for the Small Business Revolution contest. Red Wing is one of eight finalists. (Photo by Samantha Bengs)3 / 3

With a crowd nearing 500 attendees, the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual award banquet Monday evening at Treasure Island Resort & Casino.

Live music from the Red Wing High School Jazz Lab Band helped set the theme of Mardi Gras, as feather boas, beads and masquerade masks were festively worn by the business community gathered to celebrate a successful year.

Chamber President Patty Brown welcomed the attendees, sharing record-breaking numbers reached by the organization in 2016.

"Tonight is a night to celebrate a successful year," Brown said.

Brown, accompanied by staff Tammy Wadley and Marion Fitschen, reported membership grew to an all-time high of 370 members. The organization retained 92 percent of members while adding 45 new members in 2016, numbers that Brown said would be envied by other chamber organizations around the state.

"Members, you are the key to our real success. When you guys speak, we listen," Brown said.

Brown and board Chair Jeff Cunningham highlighted the chamber's involvement with the Main Event Committee, which assisted the business community during the two-year Highway 61 construction project. Brown said the work of the committee gained national attention.

"We have been contacted by several other communities asking for guidance as they face similar situations in their towns," Brown said. "This speaks highly to all the efforts that were done here in Red Wing."

Programs including HYPE (Helping Young Professionals Emerge), Career Explorations at Red Wing High School and Lunch & Learn seminars all saw growth and added support in 2016. An additional significant highlight of the past year, Brown said, was the issuing of $99,875 chamber bucks. The chamber bucks program is money that can only be spent at chamber member businesses.

"That is $99,875 that didn't go to the Mall of America, or out of town or were used online. They were spent right here in Red Wing at local businesses," Brown said to the audience's applause. "That is a huge economic impact."

The annual crowd-pleasing dessert auction raised $6,650 for the chamber. Local restaurants and bakeries applied the Mardi Gras theme to their desserts, showcasing bright colors and flavors reminiscent of New Orleans.

Awards presented to chamber ambassadors and seven business of the year categories concluded the evening. See page 9A for photos of the winners. Each business will be featured in upcoming editions of the Republican Eagle.