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September 2014


Chamber Executive Director, Pat Ornberg, retires after six years with Oconomowoc chamber

City of Oconomowoc - People have more than just kind words to say about Pat Ornberg's service to the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce. They have a long list of things Ornberg was responsible for that went a long way toward making Oconomowoc and its chamber unique.

Ornberg recently announced that she will retire from her post as executive director at the end of the year.

"It has been a pleasure working with everyone over the past 6 ½ years as we transitioned to a more business-oriented chamber," Ornberg said.

Chamber members and others who have worked with Ornberg during her tenure as executive director said she has been instrumental in implementing new programs, creating partnerships with the community and creating a successful transition from a community-oriented chamber to a business-focused chamber.

"Oh, I could go on forever with all the wonderful things Pat has done. … it will be very difficult to replace her," said past Chamber President Alan Seneczko.

He was on the committee that selected Ornberg as executive director. "We got everything we were looking for and more," he said.

Seneczko said Ornberg was instrumental in carrying out the chamber's mission to be more focused on the interests of businesses and membership.

Over the past several years the chamber has been moving toward more member and business owner needs, rather than promoting and sponsoring community events, such as holiday parades and gallery nights. Ornberg took care to hand off these events to groups like the Downtown Oconomowoc Merchant's Association (DOMA) so they would continue.

Current DOMA President Paul Schultz said the downtown advocates will miss Ornberg. And while the two groups took different roles in the community, Ornberg was open to discussions about how the two organizations could work together, he said. As a downtown business owner, Schultz also appreciated the work Ornberg did to make business its core.

"She really was the focus of changing the chamber to a business-focused organization. And it helped it be more profitable," he said.

Lisa Geason-Bauer, owner of Oconomowoc's Evolution Marketing, has worked with Ornberg as a business owner and chamber member, but also as founder of the winter farmers market. She said it was through Ornberg's support and encouragement that the winter market got off the ground. The now-popular event attracts more than 600 people each market day.

"In 2010 when I was Greener Oconomowoc president and as a chamber business member, it was my idea to start an indoor winter farmers market in Oconomowoc. I was able to found the Oconomowoc winter farmers market as a partnership between a business organization (Oconomowoc Chamber) and an environmental organization (Greener Oconomowoc), in large part due to Pat Ornberg's support for the idea," she said.

Geason-Bauer said 95 percent of farmers markets in the state don't have chambers involved, so the Oconomowoc chamber's involvement in both the winter and summer markets make them unique and create more opportunities for education and community partnerships.

"I think it helps ours be so successful because it has the business community supporting it," Geason-Bauer said.

She also pointed out that Ornberg was behind many other programs unique to the Oconomowoc, including the Business Over Breakfast series, which invites the community to hear from government officials or leaders in business. A group of young professionals called Elevate Oconomowoc, a workforce development program, a green business initiative and a recent Shop Local program, among others, were formed under Ornberg's leadership.

"Some of these have been ideas out there for some time, but they weren't really implemented, and under Pat's leadership she took those ideas from others and helped them be manifested," Geason-Bauer said.

City of Oconomowoc Director of Economic Development Bob Duffy echoed Geason-Bauer's thoughts.

"A lot of those things are fairly unique, and they are things this community and the chamber has been able to showcase to differentiate ourselves from other chambers who are not doing those things from a business improvement and educational component," Duffy said.

He added that Ornberg established a strong foundation for the chamber's new direction moving forward.

"I think she's really established a direction for the future. Strategic planning and organizational pieces moving forward are definitely something that she built and that really sets the course of moving forward for whoever may take her place," said Duffy.

While Ornberg served as executive director for 6 ½ years, she has been involved in chamber of commerce work for the past 26 years, having also served as executive director in Des Plaines, Ill., and Highland Park, Ill.

The Oconomowoc Chamber Board has established a search committee to fill the position as part of its regular annual planning and is in the process of preparing a business agenda for 2013.

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