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Executive director ready to lead Chamber in new direction

Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Wenshau. Photo courtesy of Tom Dunn Photography 1 / 2
After starting the job only a week ago, new executive director Jennifer Wenshau helped host a candidate meet and greet for the District 54 special election at River Oaks Jan. 10, 2018. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

The Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce has hired an executive director to lead it forward as it continues to revamp its role in the community.

Jennifer Wenshau started her role as executive director Jan. 2.

Chamber president Jeff Carter said after the significant growth in the Chamber over the last 18 months to two years, the timing was right to start a full-time staffer.

"This is the big change for us," Carter said. "(In the past), we tried to do as we have always done, and taking that leap is hard. That increase makes it more feasible."

Wenshau will be tasked with shaping a new direction for the Chamber, and becoming more of a presence in the community.

For now, she said she's listening to the community and the Chamber board to see what their needs are.

"I'm not coming in telling them what to do," Wenshau said.

Wenshau, who is fresh off her work at the Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce, has plenty of connections to Cottage Grove, though she lives in Woodbury with her family. Her four sons' hockey programs often bring them to the Cottage Grove Ice Arena.

She's spent most of her life around business, growing up in Bloomington with her family running a small business. After leaving school with a business administration degree, she moved into a sales job, and then other positions that involved assisting businesses.

She said since starting with the Chamber, she's hit the ground running to look at opportunities to keep the community and its businesses booming.

"I'm very excited to lead the Chamber ... and really make a plan to grow the Chamber," Wenshau said.

In growing the Chamber, she's hoping to continue bringing the St. Paul Park and Newport business communities more into the fold.

"I want to get them involved," she said. "I don't want to think of them as separate."

Another goal is to get the Chamber more involved in communication with businesses and the city, Carter said. The city's recent completion of a business retention and expansion study identified one of its goals as working more closely with the Chamber.

Carter said they will continue to host networking and happy hour events, and will be spreading the times between mornings, afternoons and evenings, likely rotating the time frame each month to make them more accessible.

Other programs such as Women in Business, Chamber 411 and Coffee's On networking meetings will still be held.

Before settling on Wenshau's full-time position, the Chamber staffed part-timers who focused their work either on marketing or office managing.

Though there will still need to be those types of jobs completed, Carter said Wenshau's role will focus a bit more on getting out of the office and talking to members and business owners.

"(The Chamber) has been somewhat impersonal in the past, so I ... think she'll be good for the Chamber as a whole," Carter said.