Although there are certainly challenges, the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's new chairman sees all the growth in the Minot area as a positive, and looks forward to helping the Chamber and Minot make the most of the city's economic boom in the coming year.
Jonn Knecht, market president of American Bank Center in Minot, took over as chairman of the Chamber at its annual meeting Oct. 10. He has been involved with the Chamber in one form or another since around 1992.
Knecht has been in the Minot area his entire life, growing up in Donnybrook and attending college at Minot State University. After getting a bachelor of science degree in accounting with a concentration in banking and finance, he worked for several area businesses, including as a finance manager with Ryan Chevrolet, a senior lending specialist with Farm Credit Services, a business banking manager with Bremer Bank, and earlier this year as market president for American Bank Center.
"I just became market president here in March," Knecht said.
While he has an extensive background in business, it was actually Knecht's background in agriculture that first got him involved with the Chamber. He farms in the Donnybrook area and used that agricultural knowledge to first get involved with the Chamber in the early 1990s.
"Once I got into Minot and started working in the business community here, I got involved through the Agricultural Committee on the Chamber. And then also the Military Affairs Committee a little bit," Knecht said. "So that was my first real experience with the Chamber."
His motivation for getting involved in the Chamber was pretty simple. As a farmer, which basically made him a business owner, and a lender, Knecht was getting more involved with business in general. He wanted to make connections with other business owners and in the area and saw the Chamber as a perfect way to do just that.
"Broadening horizons for myself with other business owners and that type of thing, and seeing what kind of issues they were facing and trying to work on issues together that all businesses face," Knecht said.
He moved up to the board of directors around six years ago when Pete Zimmerman, who was chairman at the time, nominated him to a one-year term. After that it was a matter of steadily working his way up the chain of command.
"A chairman gets three one-year appointments, and I was appointed by Pete Zimmerman. And from there, if you're a good fit on the board and then there's an opening for a three-year term, you might get nominated for a three-year term, which I then did," Knecht said. "And then I kind of went through the chairs after that."
Knecht said taking that next step up to the board and ultimately becoming chairman happened the same way many career paths he has taken in the past have happened - it was someone else's idea.
"My whole career has kind of been this way. Others tapping me on the shoulder and saying hey, we would like you to lead this or lead that or do this or do that. I've had a lot of jobs and/or careers, and I don't really remember applying for a lot of those jobs," Knecht said. "It was more of hey, come check out this out. We'd like you to do this for us."
When someone asks him to take on a new role, Knecht looks at it as a challenge and is eager to do his best.
"It's probably more of a challenge than anything, and an honor at the same time," he said.
His one year as Chamber chairman happens to coincide with the state legislative year, and Knecht said many of his goals for the Chamber are entwined with what happens to businesses in the state Legislature.
"So just being on the side of business to help watch those legislative items to make sure of what their effects are on business, make sure that business owners are heard in that process," Knecht said. "That's probably my biggest goal."
Along with that, he'd like to increase the Chamber's membership, which in turn would increase its voice.
"I think that's going to happen a little bit by default because we're in such an oil boom," he said. "But there again we want to keep that growing to have a greater impact."
Change is the key theme Knecht will be looking at in the coming year. While change is often good, it does bring its share of challenges, which Minot has been seeing lately. Knecht said the sheer amount of change businesses in Minot are seeing probably represents a challenge for everyone in the area.
"We're kind of hitting on all cylinders on all industries right now. Ag is doing extremely well, the energy industry obviously is doing extremely well. And because those are hitting and moving, retail is growing, commercial is growing, housing is growing, the city is growing," Knecht said. "So it's just creating a lot of challenges for growth, which business wants. But it's at such a high pace and fast pace that it just gets to be challenging for everybody."
Two of the bigger challenges businesses are faced with include shortages in labor and housing.
"Businesses love growth, but we're never prepared for the speed of growth," he said.
Knecht said one positive thing he's seeing to address these challenges is many different entities in Minot working together to present the city's needs to the Legislature with one united voice. He said several different voices making different requests tend to fall on deaf ears. But when those groups figure out what's best for the city as a whole and unite as one, progress tends to be made much more quickly.
"When we legislatively are looking for dollars to help fix some of these problems, that we're doing it on a unified basis," Knecht said. "We should all kind of go as a unified voice and keep the communications going with all of us so that when we go down and ask for dollars, we all know the same story. 'We' need these funds."
Although it might not have strictly been his idea, Knecht is very much looking forward to the coming year. He has enjoyed every level of his involvement with the Chamber, and encourages anyone interested in the growth of Minot to get involved themselves, whether that be with the Chamber or other community organizations.
"I'm very excited about it. I'm excited about the changes because we can mold the changes to be what we want them to be. In general, Minot's on its path to 50,000 (people), there's been discussion about that," Knecht said. "And it's up to us to decide what we want the city of Minot to look like at a size of 50,000 or greater. So we've got a lot of big decisions to make citywide."