Chamber presidents reflect on their experiences during tenures

Staff Report

The Solvang Chamber of Commerce celebrated 100 years of serving the business community of Solvang on Jan. 16. The Chamber began when six Solvang business owners created the Solvang Businessmen’s Association (SBA) which is the direct ancestor of today’s Chamber. The SBA was founded to help solve the infrastructure problems that the rapidly growing town of Solvang was experiencing as it went from 80 adults at its founding in 1911 to well over 800 residents and a growing downtown business district in 1921.

It was the SBA that created the Solvang we know today. At the January 1947 meeting SBA President Ray Paaske presented the plan to honor the town’s heritage by building in the classic Danish “half-timber” style. The goal was to “help encourage tourism, encourage the establishment of new enterprises and in general to promote the welfare of the Town of Solvang.” These themes are still at the heart of today’s Chamber.

David Rasmussen is shown in front of the iconic Mission Revival Arches on Copenhagen Drive in 2021. Photo contributed

Chamber President Linda Johansen (2004) took the reins at a time of financial challenge as tourism and travel was emerging from the 9/11 tragedy. 

“Being Chamber President was a wonderful experience that I treasure,” Johansen said.

When asked about her proudest achievement, she said it was “starting the campaign for the redevelopment of Copenhagen Drive.”

Asked about her proudest achievement, Susan Williams who was president in 2012-2013 replied, “it was helping the Chamber adapt and pivot as the economy suffered through the 2012 global economic crisis.” 

According to Chamber Executive Director Tracy Beard, “with Susan’s leadership, we added events like the Music in the Park that successfully drove traffic to the downtown area.”

This is something echoed by three-time Chamber President John Martino (2011, 2017-2018). 

“We saw great growth in 2018 as tourism was at an all-time high,” Martino said. “But the Chamber had learned from the past and continued to look for ways to ensure success continued.” 

When asked to name his proudest achievement, Martino said it was “how we increased the diversity and uniqueness of the businesses which helps make Solvang a unique destination.” 

According to Tracy Beard, “that focus included a Tenant Mix Consultant Study and television commercials for which we won three Telly Awards – both of which came from which was the largest economic grant ever given to the Chamber at that time.”

David Rasmussen and his family business epitomize the legacy of the Chamber. His great-uncle Aage Rasmussen joined the SBA in February 1921, one month after it was formed and was Chamber president in 1939. His grandfather Jens Rasmussen was SBA president in 1958. David’s father was on the newly renamed Solvang Chamber Board of Directors between 1966 and 1974, and David himself was Chamber president in 1987 and remains a member to this day. 

“The Chamber is where I learned how to be a businessman,” David Rasmussen said. “It’s also where I learned the importance of tourism which led to creation of the Solvang Visitors & Convention Bureau by the Chamber while I was president.” 

Today, the Chamber continues to look for ways to improve the local business environment. In addition to helping small businesses with “traditional” chamber services such as publicity and directories, today’s Solvang Chamber has also become a resource for accessing state and federal loans and grants in this ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 restrictions. The Chamber is also taking the lead on providing access to technology to help visitors and residents connect with and buy from our retailers and service providers. Later this quarter, businesses will have access to mobile apps, mobile shopping carts as well as state of the art communications using text and social media through the Chamber.