Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:24 pm
Wallner sees opportunity for Waukesha Area Chamber of Commerce
By Jordan Fox, for SBT
Talk to Patti Wallner, the new president of the Waukesha Area Chamber of Commerce, and in the first few minutes you’re sure to get caught up in her enthusiasm. She is passionate in her desire to grow the organization and is committed to help its members grow their own companies. Her background, energy and abilities should help accomplish those goals.
A native of the area, she graduated UWM with a degree in elementary education and taught second grade at the school she attended as a second grader.
"I consider my teaching experience as the foundation of my professional life," she says. "Working with second graders involved selling a useful product to a ‘reluctant’ audience. That’s how I work with the business world. They’re not necessarily a reluctant audience, but they respond well to efforts that are designed to be fun and enjoyable."
Giving up teaching after three years to have a family, Wallner went back to work after raising her two sons and two daughters. This time she handled sales and marketing positions for the Midway Motor Lodges, representing 17 of its properties in the Midwest. Changing jobs, she then marketed "glamorous" conveyers and automated material handling systems for the Doerner Manufacturing Co., and subsequently moved on to market "more glamorous" water pumps and water systems for Sta Rite Industries.
"Then a job opened up in Brookfield as executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was a great fit," she says. She had lived in Brookfield for 17 years and was president of its newcomer’s club. The job brought together the aspects her hospitality and marketing experience and her knowledge of the area.
After a successful four years at the bureau, Wallner joined the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce as executive director. There she helped them increase its membership and retention rates, improve the participation and commitment of its board and members, and improved its image.
"When the Waukesha job became available, I went for it. I had learned that other chambers look up to it as a benchmark for excellence. I’m thrilled to be representing this organization, to able to celebrate the things they’ve accomplished. There’s a tradition of long-standing corporations that have supported us for many years. And there’s the excitement of new companies joining us. There’s a wonderful diversity here of large and mid-sized companies and start-ups."
Wallner believes the caliber of that diversity is quite unusual in a chamber of commerce. "I think that’s the heart of this organization. We have a history of promoting one another, doing business with one another, helping each other grow and thrive. We also work to establish a relationship with the area’s school districts, to communicate with elected officials, not only on a business-to-business level, but on a personal relationship level as well."
The Waukesha Area Chamber of Commerce is 800 members strong, and has a 20-member board of directors, according to Wallner. Its chairman is Ty Taylor of Waukesha State Bank. "We’re blessed with many involved members and I’m overwhelmed by the number of volunteers who are here at our downtown Waukesha headquarters on a daily basis," she says.
Wallner says the chamber has just sent surveys to its membership to determine which current business issues are concerning them.
"One issue I know that is bothering all of us is the rising cost of health care. That’s something we’ll want to get involved in. There are some proposals for reform being formulated elsewhere and we’ll probably want to take an active role. We’ll be educating our members on this. There may be a coalition that will come together to advance some of the interests of business on that subject.
"Another issue? The I-94 Marquette Interchange has a great impact on all of Waukesha County and most of our members. We feel strongly that Waukesha and Milwaukee counties complement each other very well and that there should be no indecision about a transportation plan that will improve things for us.
"The expansion of our airport is also an issue that impacts us. That’s in the fact-finding stage right now. We need to determine what is truly in the best interests of business, residential and economic development of the community.
"Once we get our membership survey completed we’ll have a better read on other current issues," she says.
March 7, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee