This month we welcome to our blog Dee Slinde, our new Executive Director of the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism. Dee now makes our beautiful region her home after years of visiting and enjoying what makes Lanesboro go “Beyond the List”!
Photo Courtesy of Ana Hagedorn
Over the 4th of July weekend I loaded up to attend the annual birthday celebration for a dear friend, as I have for more than twenty-five years. It is an opportunity to connect with old friends, enjoy some campfire music, and philosophize about life in the way only those that have known each other for a long time can.
As the conversation evolved, I spoke about my new position as the Executive Director for the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, reciting the very long list of wonderful features we enjoy here in our region: things like the bike trail, the Root River and its water sports, the Commonweal Theatre, the Lanesboro Arts Center, great restaurants, Amish culture…you know…the 60 second elevator speech any good representative of our area should be able to recite at the drop of a hat.
In the way only a dear old friend has of cutting to the chase, one of my friends asked, “That’s all wonderful, but lots of places have those kinds of ‘things.’ What’s so special about the Lanesboro region that convinced you to leave a career and a life that you were happy with to go do that instead? I know you, and I know there’s more to the story. I can hear the passion in your voice when you talk about it. So what is the real attraction?”
I thought about that for a moment. My friend was right, of course. Lots of places have art, or natural beauty, or great restaurants. The one thing that is certainly harder to verbalize, but infinitely more important, is what brought me here: the incredible amount of cooperation and ability to work together for the greater good that Lanesboro and our surrounding communities have with each other.
I believe that spirit of cooperation shines through more brightly than many of our community members and businesses may even realize. When I initially came to the area as a tourist, I was struck by how friendly everyone was. To my amazement, when a local retail store didn’t have an item I wanted, I was cheerfully referred to a vendor across the street. I remember at the time thinking how odd it was for two competitive businesses to “share the wealth” so easily. Having come from a somewhat more bloodthirsty background in the corporate world, this was a foreign concept, but a welcome one.
Over the course of the next couple of years, I became a regular visitor to the area, spending time in each of our Harmony-Preston Valley, Root River Trail Town communities, and realized that that spirit of cooperation extends throughout the entire area. When Lanesboro’s Das Wurst Haus restaurant closed due to the owner’s retirement, I was quickly referred to Rosi’s German Restaurant in Houston as an alternative. When I asked where I could get a good piece of pie, The Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan, Village Square in Harmony, Pedal Pushers Cafe in downtown Lanesboro, and Birdy’s in Peterson all came highly recommended (and I have since tried them all!). Last November I decided to make this area my home. Accepting the Executive Director position this past March felt almost serendipitous!
Lanesboro has been awarded with a slew of “Best of…” recognitions in publications both regionally and nationally, most recently in the Smithsonian Magazine’s Top 20 Small Towns to Visit in the USA in 2014, the Star-Tribune’s Best of Minnesota, and ArtPlace’s Top 12 Small Town Art Communities in the USA. All of the articles talked about the many wonderful “things” this area provides for visitors to enjoy. Yet none spoke of what I would consider the real “secret sauce” of what makes our area so special.
I have always embraced the “Everyone does better when EVERYONE does better” philosophy – in fact I have a bumper sticker next to my computer to remind me of it. Finding a place that actually practices that philosophy is the real “secret sauce” of what makes our region so special. These days, finding a person that has a genuine interest in working together to help their neighbors AND competitors is unusual. Finding a whole region of communities that do is incredibly rare.
Now, when folks ask me what brought me to the area, I don’t recite my elevator speech. I tell them I came for the secret sauce.
-Dee Slinde, Executive Director, Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce