BARODA — Those attending the Oct. 24 Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner saw 2018-19 board members sworn in, heard about future plans, and enjoyed the sparkling vineyard view at Tabor Hill Restaurant in rural Baroda.

The following 2018-2019 Board of Directors members (responsible for overseeing the affairs of the Chamber, determining its policies, and to make sure the organization is providing appropriate and necessary services to its members and community) were announced ahead of the swearing-in ceremony:

• Cathi Rogers, Fusion Design (Board Chair)

• Chuck Garasic, Sweethaven Resort (Vice Chair)

• Danette Narregan, Chicago Title Co. (Treasurer)

• Jen Thompson, Chikaming Open Lands (Secretary)

• John Natsis, Beachtown Vacation Rentals (a newly appointed director)

• Dick Sauerman, New Buffalo Savings Bank

• Allie Mojsiejenko, Four Winds Casino

• Kurt Hauseman, New Buffalo Inn & Spa

• Maggie Martin, MAK Salon

Rogers said the next year is expected to include efforts to create alliances with other organizations and seek additional funding opportunities.

“We feel that there are a lot of other organizations and entities in this area that really carry the brand as much as we do, and we want to make sure that we’re partnering with them.”

Departing Board members Tom Hemingway and Sandra Thompson were acknowledged.

The program began with Matt Moersch, CEO of the Moersch Hospitality Group (Tabor Hill, Round Barn, Free Run and the Public House) welcoming everyone back to Tabor Hill, which he noted was added to the group a little over a year ago.

“We wanted to really showcase some of the changes that we’ve made, not only in aesthetics — the label, the logo — but we also have our new tent out here where we host corporate events, private events, weddings.”

Chamber President/CEO Viki Gudas: said pleasant fall weather has made for a wonderful extended fall season the last couple of years.

She thanked the staff at Tabor Hill and Chamber Ambassadors Nancy Watson, Sherri Butera, Paula Welch and Karen Poff along with Chamber staffers Kim Wendt  and Emily Hojara.

A handout given to those attending the event highlighted activities from the past year including another successful Harbor Country Guide (“a huge success” that surpassed its revenue goals), an expanded Undiscovered Season campaign that markets the area for fall and winter, and increased social media presence.

Gudas said the Chamber website continues to draw an average of 250,000 visitors annually with a slight increase in the number of millennials visiting the site.

“It still astounds me, seven years in this job, that 70 percent of the people … are first-time visitors to our site.”

She said a planned relocation campaign marketing Harbor Country to fleeing Illinoisans was put on hold for several reasons:

1. The lack of affordable and workforce housing became a community conversation.

2. Our schools expressed some concern about their ability to absorb a significant amount of new students all at one time.

3. Funding such a campaign would require more dollars than the Chamber alone could provide.

Gudas said the Chamber’s Economic Development Committee has been meeting quarterly with local municipal leaders in an effort to align the eight towns and five municipalities of Harbor Country around a common economic development vision focused on growing and sustaining a vibrant business climate.

“Those efforts, along with new leadership at some of the municipalities have helped somewhat. However, as evidenced by The Pokagon Fund community assessment meetings, there is still room for improvement in terms of multi-jurisdictional collaboration.”

Gudas said the Chamber will re-evaluate its role as a facilitator of economic development efforts in the community in the next year, and will work with The Pokagon Fund to determine how best we can contribute to their goal of fostering community vitality.

Treasurer Danette Narregan later said the Chamber ended 2017-18 “in the black” and approved a balanced budget for 2018-19.

There are several projects on the horizon that Gudas said the Chamber believes could serve as economic drivers for the area and member businesses.

They are:

• Marquette Greenway - a proposed bike trail connecting New Buffalo to Chicago.

• A South Shore Double Track that would reduce commute times from Michigan City to Chicago and could be a part of increasing the population of Michigan City.

• Red Arrow Trail — a linear park along Red Arrow Highway extending from New Buffalo to Bridgman.

• Beautification projects “that are going to really help elevate Harbor Country to the next level” including New Buffalo’s downtown; Union Pier and Red Arrow Highway coordinator streetscapes; and the Exit One Gateway at I-94.

• And the continuing exodus from Illinois.

“People are going to come here whether we like it or not. Development’s going to happen whether we like it or not … If history has taught us anything it’s that we’re all better when we work together.”

“We look forward to working with all of you to seize these opportunities before us and to have another great year with the Chamber.”

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