If Fitchburg is still a “teenager” in comparison to its neighbors, it’s fair to say the Fitchburg Chamber Visitor and Business Bureau has helped the city navigate some of its growth spurts for the last 20 years.
The FCVBB is leaving its teenage years this year, as it turns 20. “A very dedicated group of businesses and business leaders” started the chamber in 1998, said FCVBB director Angela Kinderman, who’s been with the organization for 16 years.
Fitchburg itself is relatively new as a city, having been incorporated in April 1983 after a successful referendum mostly aimed at preventing the City of Madison from continuing to annex and develop town land. Developing a chamber that supported local businesses was one of the first initiatives given to the city’s economic director Mike Zimmerman by then-mayor Doug Morrissette in 1995, Kinderman said.
“Many of those people are still involved,” Kinderman said. “They are very invested in Fitchburg and have really done a lot of things that have helped make this a community.”
Kate Wicker, membership director of the Fitchburg Chamber Visitor and Business Bureau, joined the organization in 2013. Throughout the last five years, she’s had a front-row seat to Fitchburg’s continued growth.
“Fitchburg is growing at such a fast rate, that the things I’ve seen in five years you would think maybe transpired over the last 10, 15 or 20 years,” she said.
The FCVBB views Fitchburg from a few different perspectives – of course, the business perspective, she said, but also an angle of how to support current businesses in their expansion, the addition of new employers, as well as community assets and residential developments.
The FCVBB was also designated the city’s tourism entity in 2017, allowing it to direct funds from the city’s hotel room tax. That created an entire new department for FCVBB to run and a new set of responsibilities for promoting both business and the city.
“We see ourselves as champions for the business community,” Wicker said. “We support economic development as a whole.”
Wicker told the Star it feels like every time she drives around the city, she finds herself coming across a new business that the FCVBB has yet to welcome.
“The challenge has been, on the chamber side, keeping up with all of the new businesses that are coming in and trying to welcome them and make sure that they know that we’re here to support them,” Wicker said.
For Kinderman, the challenge is that FCVBB continuously wants to “do a little more.”
To keep up with the city’s economic needs and developments, every five years the FCVBB develops strategic plans that look forward to the next 10-20 years, called “Forward Fitchburg.” The next one is currently in the works.
A group of people involved with FCVBB, the city, a hired outside consultant and other general “stakeholders” in the community come together to determine the direction of which FCVBB will go, Wicker said.
“We’re very strategic about that,” she said. “Everything that we do at the chamber, we look to make sure that it is supporting that five-year plan.”
Kinderman said the FCVBB has also navigated Fitchburg’s growth with a “progressive” board that is willing to try new things.
“How we’ve adapted is to try to be ahead of game in terms of what people want,” Kinderman said. “Sometimes you need to reassess and make sure (programs are) still providing value, so we really try to listen to what members want.”
Wicker gives city officials credit for maintaining infrastructure and pursuing developments such as those on Lacy Road near U.S. Hwy. 14 that allow that growth to occur.
“They were very forward-thinking, knowing that Fitchburg was going to expand and it was going to expand quickly,” Wicker said. “Every time you turn around, there’s a new business, there’s a new development being worked on. The city’s kind of a teenager as it relates to other communities, but even so, there are areas that are starting to need a facelift and the city is looking at that.”