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Propelling business forward in the Fox Cities for 150 years

Fox Cities Chamber celebrating its sesquicentennial in 2024

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December 27, 2023

FOX CITIES – Since 1874, the Fox Cities Chamber has supported the business community within the Outagamie, Calumet and northern Winnebago counties.

Today – 150 years later – the mission to promote employers and economic development while serving as a catalyst to further improve the quality of life in the Fox Cities, continues.

“In other words, (we aim) to connect, lead and grow – (which are our pillars of focus),” Laura Wiegert, executive vice president, marketing & events, Fox Cities Chamber, said.

Wiegert said the organization does that not only on behalf of its nearly 1,300 chamber members but also for the additional 600 young professionals, who are part of the PULSE Young Professional Network with the chamber.

The origins of the chamber
Though the chamber’s mission has consistently remained the same, the name, however, has evolved over the years.

It started as the combining of two previously separate chambers of commerce – The Appleton Chamber of Commerce (originally starting in 1874 – which Wiegert said was 38 years before the national chamber of commerce was established) and the Chamber of Commerce of Neenah-Menasha (which originally started during the first half of the 20th century).

When the two organizations merged in 1976, the organization took on the name Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce & Industry before becoming the Fox Cities Chamber in the 2022 rebrand.

Wiegert said she finds it telling that many of the factors that led to the organization’s inception – building infrastructure, working on legislation and business growth – remain as fundamental reasons businesses join the Fox Cities Chamber today as they did back then.

Laura Wiegert

“Businesses have always needed assistance with those things,” she said. “They can’t do it alone, but collectively, the chamber can help them make it happen. The primary focus was, and is, on growing our business community, helping our businesses and bettering our economy.”

A chamber for all
Wiegert said chamber membership stretches from large employers to medium-sized businesses, to entrepreneurs – all playing a pivotal role in positioning the community’s livelihood for the future.

The chamber underwent a rebrand in August 2022, which Wiegert said was meant to highlight just that.

“(At that time, we also launched) Connect FREE membership (program) to show we’re not just about big business but small business, medium business and young professionals and bringing the entire business community together to make an impact,” she said.

Wiegert said Connect FREE – the first of its kind in the State of Wisconsin – offers a free chamber membership to small businesses with five or fewer full-time employees or equivalent, nonprofits with 10 or fewer employees and freestanding restaurants in the Fox Cities.

“That membership reaffirmed our commitment to small businesses,” she said.

Today, Wiegert said, close to 480 businesses have taken advantage of Connect FREE.

In addition, the chamber’s rebrand included a refreshed visual identity with a new logo which Wiegert said features bold colors to showcase how the organization is positioned with energy and excitement for the future.

“It is vibrant and optimistic, similar to how our staff, board of directors, members and stakeholders feel about the Fox Cities and all that lies ahead,” she said. “It was well-timed to drop the ‘of Commerce & Industry’ in the name, update the visual identity and our brand experience not long after COVID-19 when everyone still felt a little sluggish.”

Fox Cities Chamber member Lindo Mexican Restaurant & Supermarket in Appleton celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023 with a chamber ribbon cutting. Submitted Photo

That, Wiegert said, was followed by the revamp of the PULSE Young Professional (YP) Network last January to allow any young professional to join that chamber program for free.

“It’s a great way for another generation to get exposure to the chamber and its inner workings,” she said.

The chamber also implemented the Champion of Young Professionals program, where businesses can pledge to provide support and a positive work environment for young professionals within their company.

In a talent-focused climate, Wiegert said the designation can be a key differentiator for a business.

“This is an opportunity for businesses to support YPs and to benefit both the business and the YPs in the area,” she said.

Wiegert said Connect FREE and PULSE Young Professional Network are just two examples of the way it delivers on its promises to connect.

Other examples, she said, include its advocacy on behalf of member businesses, other networking programs, Appleton’s Octoberfest/License to Cruise, Leadership Fox Cities program, Annual Dinner, Business Awards, Excellence in Education Shining Star Awards and Future 15 Awards.

Collectively, Wiegert said the chamber aims to capture the energy of the region and transform it into innovative programs and services, championing employers, economic development and quality of life.

This is of particular relevance, she said, within the third prong of the chamber’s three-pillared approach: growth – especially in terms of attracting and retaining employees.

One way the chamber has addressed that, Wiegert said, is the establishment of the Employee Friendly Workplace initiative – a collaborative effort between businesses, community organizations and the chamber, which encourages the adoption of additional employee-friendly workplace practices and policies.

“It’s about enhancing a company’s work-life balance to attract and retain the best employees,” she said. “We added many of those in 2023.”

Wiegert said the focus on talent attraction and recruitment is front and center in other existing and new programs of the chamber as well.

The Future Fox Cities Career Expo, she said, is a chamber program that provides opportunities for employers to get in front of students to pique their interest in career pathing and hopefully help to fill future career pipelines.

Fox Cities Days, on the other hand, is a newer introduction to chamber members, which Wiegert said offers employers an opportunity to go to college recruitment events at Michigan Tech, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and other campuses.

A small business vantage point: Nutritional Healing
Kimberly Stoeger, a clinical nutritionist and owner of Nutritional Healing, said she joined the Fox Cities Chamber shortly after establishing her company 13 years ago.

“Another small business owner invited me to attend a business after-hours event, and I never looked back,” she said. “Being a solo entrepreneur, I was learning how to connect with other people who were new like me or had guidance from their own experience.”

Kimberly Stoeger

Stoeger said she has valued not only the connections to fellow members and their business wisdom but also a host of resources.

Serving as a chamber ambassador, Stoeger said she has participated in ribbon cuttings, speaking opportunities and award recognition opportunities.

She now serves on the chamber’s board of directors and supportive committees.

“The Fox Cities Chamber is my business home,” she said. “I grew up with them and have always felt welcome and seen by some of the most prestigious and established large companies in the area.”

Stoeger said she encourages others to take advantage of all the opportunities the chamber provides.

“Most importantly, meet your local chamber team,” she said. “They will guide you to the resources you need the most.”

Large business vantage point: Plexus Corp.
Plexus Corp. has a long history in the Fox Cities, and its Fox Cities Chamber membership is equally long-standing.

Founded and headquartered in Neenah since 1979, Plexus now operates 28 facilities in eight countries and employs nearly 25,000 team members globally with about 2,000 of those in Wisconsin.

Among other things, Kristine Groholski, senior director of brand experience at Plexus, said being involved in the Fox Cities Chamber has provided the company a platform to reach out to the community.

“Their programs, events and community engagement have been a powerful platform for us to tell our brand story, promote our people and culture, access potential talent and build trust both in the community and with current team members,” she said.

Recent examples of this, Groholski said, include the chamber’s support in encouraging voting for Plexus as a nominee, and then winner, of the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce for the company’s Bevi Bottomless Water Dispenser made locally.

“When we were announced in the final rounds (of the competition), the chamber team moved quickly to help support our voting and generate community engagement that helped us solidify the win,” she said.

Kristine Groholski

Plexus, Groholski said, has also participated in the chamber’s Smart Girls Rock! day-long, interactive mentoring event, which connects female high school students with the community to inspire student interest in STEM careers and provide academic and career planning guidance.

“This event brought 85 students into our facility and created a great opportunity to be seen as an employer of choice,” she said.

Chamber highlights since the 1950s
The Fox Cities Chamber’s impact on the business community and community at large, Wiegert said, is deep and far-reaching.

Here are a few highlights since the 1950s:

1958: Advocating for the construction of the Oneida Street bridge to link the south side of Appleton to the downtown. The bridge was completed in 1959.1965-72: Advocate and partner in growing the Appleton International Airport, including the opening of the new Outagamie County Airport, the start of Air Wisconsin and the development of the new airport in 1967.1966-67: Work on several priority projects including reconstruction of College Avenue and the establishment of an area technical and vocational school now known as Fox Valley Technical College.1981: Appleton’s Octoberfest was founded by the chamber and the Appleton Downtown Retail Association (now known as Appleton Downtown Inc.) with the License to Cruise car show added in 1990. Today, the events draw more than 300,000 attendees.1983: The chamber forms its first economic development committee to address economic stimulation. 1988: The chamber is involved in the planning and development of Highway 441 to relieve traffic on U.S. Highway 41 and open access to the eastern part of the city and surrounding municipalities.1991: The chamber launches its first Leadership Fox Cities program.2008: The chamber works with the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau and others to perform a feasibility study that shows the impact the Fox Cities Expo Center would bring annually. The center opened in 2017.2012: The Fox Cities Regional Partnership of the Fox Cities Chamber is founded to function as a regional economic development organization to address job creation needs.2015: The chamber hosts its first Smart Girls Rock! event to increase awareness of STEM careers.2021: The chamber worked with the Appleton International Airport to bring an Allegiant Air permanent aircraft crew and base to the community.2023: The chamber launched a new economic development magazine businesses can use as a recruitment and retention tool in conjunction with Livability, a go-to resource for anyone looking to discover the best places to live, work and visit.
Maintaining business growth and momentum
Collectively, Wiegert said the chamber’s team of 14 employees continues to march forward on behalf of economic development, workforce development, advocacy and more on behalf of the business community.

“We’re here to serve our membership and to serve the business community to make the area a better place to live, work and play,” she said. “(Our longevity) is not about us. It’s about serving the business community, whether it’s staying on top of legislative issues, housing issues, childcare issues or connecting people and resources.”

The chamber will host a special “Celebrate: A Toast to 150” event Tuesday, Jan. 16, at the Best Western Premier Bridgewood Resort Hotel in Neenah.

For more information or to register for the event, visit

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