Meet Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce’s new director
ALGOMA – Kay Smith found plenty to work on in her first four months on the job. Her first major task, though, was making sure her office didn't wash into Lake Michigan.
Smith became executive director of the Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 1, less than a month before high waters and severe winds from the east sent strong, land-eroding waves onto the shore, within feet of the building, which also houses the chamber's Algoma Visitor Center. The chamber offices are in the lower floor of the building, level with Crescent Beach, with the visitor center at street level, upstairs.
"The first priority I had was shoring up the shoreline," Smith said Tuesday, a day after the chamber officially announced she had joined the organization and two new directors were elected to its board. "There was terrible erosion; we lost several feet."
With that resolved for the time being, thanks to work by the Friends of Crescent Beach volunteer group and Algoma Public Works Department, Smith is focusing on the chamber's regular business of promoting the city and its businesses and operating the visitor center.
She comes to the position after most recently serving as executive director of the Volunteer Center of Door County. She also served on the board of Door County Habitat for Humanity for the past five years. Before that, Smith worked in Algoma as branch manager of what was then Citizens Bank and FirstMerit Bank, now Associated Bank.
Smith has spent much of her first four months on the job meeting people and getting acclimated, but she said her current big effort is gathering insights from chamber and community members and tourists for an assessment of the city's attractiveness to visitors by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
One of the first things she did after joining the chamber was attend the annual meeting in October of the Wisconsin Harbor Towns Association, whose members include 19 communities on the Lake Michigan and Superior shores. That's where Smith learned the tourism department selects a few locations each year for the assessments, and she was able to put Algoma on that list.
To find out what people were interested in having the city offer, the chamber sent surveys to its members and tourists who signed the guest book in the visitor center.
"The biggest undertaking was … setting up a task force of citizens, business members in the community, city officials," Smith said, "to take an in-depth look at the tourism industry in Algoma and find out what's working, what's not, what are the challenges we face."
Like other lakeshore communities, such as its neighbor Kewaunee to the south, Algoma's tourism business is most known for its water and shoreline activities, such as boating, fishing and the use of Crescent Beach for recreation and special events. But Smith expects to emphasize other types of attractions in the city.
"I do see it expanding out," Smith said. "You have got this art community developing in Algoma, that's another asset. You also have the silent sports on the (Lake Michigan) shore and along the Ahnapee River, biking, hiking."
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Smith said she isn't planning major changes to this year to the chamber's annual events for residents and visitors — the three-day Shanty Days celebration and Soar on the Shore kite festival, both in August, and the weekly summer farmers markets and Concerts in the Park.
"We're going to carry on with those and see how it goes," Smith said. "We'll assess the situation and see if we need to make improvements. There's also the possibility of adding to our existing events. With the surveys, we got some good feedback on that as well."
Smith also is investigating the possibility of working with the Kewaunee and Luxemburg chambers of commerce to determine if they can collaborate on other events such as the annual Christmas Stroll they currently sponsor together.
The idea is to make Algoma not just a place to visit, but a destination where tourists can make memories.
"What we found out is whenever people come here, they want an experience," Smith said. "They don't just want to see something; they want to experience something. And that's what we can create."
As for marketing the city to businesses that might want to locate there, Smith said that falls more into the purview of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation, but she expects the chamber to weigh in on issues that could be improved to make it more attractive to them, such as a lack of housing and inadequate high-speed broadband access.
"We want to make Algoma more attractive for businesses to come in but also make sure we have the resources available for them to come in," she said. "What I hope to do is get all the businesses together to work toward the main goals. And educating them, and bringing resources to allow them to maintain and grow their businesses."
She said she's noticed changes in the diversity of businesses Algoma offers since she first worked there, but she noted that survey respondents indicated they'd like to see another grocery store, "whether a mom-and-pop store or a national chain," along with a chain hotel that offers conference space and a wider variety of restaurants, especially family-style ones.
Smith also wants to get out the word on Algoma's offerings for tourists who might be visiting nearby areas. With the Ryder Cup international golf matches coming to Whistling Straits Golf Course in the Sheboygan area and Lambeau Field in Green Bay hosting a game between the University of Wisconsin and University of Notre Dame this fall, Smith wants to let people attending those events know there's less expensive places to stay not too far away.
In fact, she said getting out the word is one of the most important parts of her job.
"My focus is making Algoma a destination place," Smith said, "where people can come and experience all that Algoma has to offer. And, making sure we get these communications out there and let people know about it."
New board members
The Algoma chamber also announced Monday that Rev. Jennifer Emert and Ann Renard were elected to its Board of Directors.
Emert is pastor of Algoma and West Kewaunee United Methodist churches. She lives in Algoma with her husband, Matt and has three children.
Renard is a third-generation owner of Renard’s Cheese and Rosewood Dairy. She and her husband, Chris, live in Southern Door County and have four daughters.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Meet Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce's new director