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Published December 09 2010

A voice for Moorhead business

Somewhere along the way – and Chuck Chadwick doesn’t want to point fingers – some Moorhead businesses started to feel like they’d lost their voice in the community.

Now, the newly formed Moorhead Business Association, an advocacy group focused on boosting companies in the city, is working to get it back.

Chadwick, the group’s executive director and a longtime Moorhead businessman, said the new organization’s goal is to bring Moorhead businesses together under a common banner with a common cause.

“We just haven’t been unified. We haven’t come together in recent years,” he said. “We need to change that.”

He said the group is drawing strong buzz in the community – it’s attracted about 50 members to date even though it hasn’t officially entered its membership phase. Those range from banks to retailers to boat shops, he said.

He also said it’s not meant to serve as a rival to other groups in the region with similar goals, most notably the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, the Moorhead Business Association is a chamber member itself. Chadwick likened it to Fargo’s Downtown Community Partnership, and said it is modeled after that organization.

“This is not another chamber,” Chadwick said. “We want to be partners with the chamber.” Instead, he said, the goal is to champion business causes from a Moorhead-centric stance.

Craig Whitney, president and chief executive of the chamber, said that’s a worthwhile goal.

“I think we have an opportunity to work together,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing.”

The roots of the Moorhead Business Association can actually be traced back to the original Moorhead Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1957, the Industrial Committee of that chamber launched the Greater Moorhead Development Corp., a private, for-profit economic development corporation (unaffiliated from the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., which is not for profit). That group’s activity had waned in recent decades, but a year ago, the group hired Chadwick to act as a community liaison.

He surveyed businesses around town, and heard the same thing from multiple sources: “There was no one speaking for them.”

That led to a grant from the Moorhead Development Corp. to create the Moorhead Business Association. The development corporation is also paying the $100 membership fee for 2011 for any businesses that join.

Les Stenerson, a board member of the Moorhead Development Corp. and the president of the new group, said the city “lost its own business identity” when the chamber merged.

“We need to get that identity back,” he said. He also said Moorhead businesses have grown distant from City Hall. Closing that gap was part of the goal of Chadwick’s original position, and Stenerson said the new group should help advance that relationship.

Moorhead City Council member Mark Hintermeyer, who has been supportive of the new group, said establishing a better relationship between the city and community businesses has been one of his priorities since he was elected five years ago. He’s pushing for the new group to have a permanent seat on Moorhead’s Economic Development Authority, a city committee.

He said a Moorhead-focused group is necessary because “there are unique situations” for businesses on the Minnesota side of the river.

“Our businesses in Minnesota have different hoops to jump through,” he said.

Pat Kovash of Kovash Marine in Moorhead is one of the acting board members of the new association, and also one of the first business owners to join the group. He said he’s excited to have a group to speak for Moorhead businesses.

“We’re trying to create a little bit more positive business environment in Moorhead,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502