New chamber director has goals to restore downtown
MONROE - The Monroe Chamber of Commerce gained a new executive director who comes with a vision and worldly experience.
Una Wirkebau-Hartt knows planning and business. She is replacing former chamber head Annique Bennett, who left for a job with Snohomish County.
The chamber director position connects local businesses together and works with the city and county on tourism and new business growth.
Wirkebau-Hartt began with the chamber on March 26. She has a lot of plans on her radar, and wants to see them succeed.
“I am getting my feet wet here,” she said. “I have found that it is on everyone’s radar that the growth of Monroe is a concern, and that the downtown core needs something to happen (for the growth factor) to make everyone comfortable and happy.”
Wirkebau-Hartt elaborated that there needs to be a few projects done to help strategize for the growth, including a mass-beautification effort mainly for the downtown area.
“My next step is to make a beautification committee or task force,” she said. “We want to reach out to the building owners (of the downtown area) so that we can find out what their stories are. Do they care what happens to their building, or not.”
She added that she wants to get the City Council to enforce an empty building ordinance.
“Because we do have empty buildings down here,” Wirkebau-Hartt said. “It would be great to get them filled.”
She wants to get in close with local community members, and her door will be open when she starts a weekly “Chamber Chat” sessions beginning May 7. The chats will be every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. where people can come in, visit with her, ask questions and offer ideas at the chamber’s office, 125 S. Lewis St.
Wirkebau-Hartt agrees with the chamber’s marketing efforts, Choose Monroe and the new Ride Here program, and plans to keep them under her watch, she said.
Journeying across the Pacific and back
Wirkebau-Hartt’s journey to the chamber seat has been filled with opportunities and seemingly lucky chances that morphed her into an independent business strategist and entrepreneur, but her core value remained promoting business and building relations.
The Bainbridge Island native landed after college in the marketing department of a Connecticut casino, the Foxwoods, in 1992.
After her casino days, she moved to Colorado and opened a bed and breakfast, where she oversaw events and wedding planning, and organized town events.
Her skills took her down under, landing a job in Australia with an ecotourism company, Coral Bay Eco Tours.
She hacked it out with a staff of 35 people, no running water, no electricity, and no access to any town or major city within a three-day journey radius. Encouraging good community ties in that scenario was essential.
Following an Australian contact’s recommendation, she next went to China and sold wine.
She then returned to America, landing in Alaska to open up another bed-and-breakfast with more weddings and catering.
More recently she landed in Snohomish with an events group.
“I was having much more fun helping people (with developing businesses), so that took me places, accidentally,” Hartt said. “I worked really closely with the communities around that area, and would always do event planning, or that kind of stuff because that’s what I enjoyed doing.”
When the chamber posted a help wanted ad in similar style to before, Wirkebau-Hartt dove in.
“I’m a firm believer that things happen all the time, and if we don’t jump at opportunities that may or may not be a good fit, you just don’t know,” Wirkebau-Hartt said. “I’m not fearful of jumping into the unknown at all. Quite frankly, I would never leave one job for another unless it was perfect. I have always wanted to be a chamber of commerce executive director. Chambers are our backbones to our communities. Chambers pull communities together. I love that.”
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