Chamber welcomes new president; Elaine Hansen assumes leadership role

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Elaine Hansen is a name well known around town.

Since coming to Austin in 1994, she has been the executive director for the Mower County chapter of the American Red Cross, has worked in the business office for the school district and was most recently the senior development coordinator at Gerard Academy.

But her first job in Austin was at the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, and as of Dec. 10, she has returned, taking over as the new president of the Chamber. She was hired to replace retiring executive director Sandy Forstner.

Elaine Hansen

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“I’m excited to be a part of the business community in Austin and really proud of the work the Chamber does, not only to support the business community, but also to help the overall quality of life here,” she said.

As Hansen settles in to her new role, she plans to prepare by listening to members and hearing their concerns.

“I want to get a sense of where things are at, in terms of the local business community, and what are the primary concerns or areas that are challenging them in their goals of being a successful business,” she said. “Initially, I’ll be gathering information and attending Minnesota Chamber of Commerce activities and hearing what’s going on at the state level and connecting with local government entities at the city and county level as well as (State Rep.) Jeanne Poppe and (State Sen.) Dan Sparks.”

Although he has retired, Forstner has been assisting Hansen with the transition.

“I’ve known Sandy for a long time, so it’s nice to have an opportunity to work with him directly in this capacity and get a sense of what the status of the Chamber is right now and the direction the Board has been moving towards,” Hansen said.

Forstner expressed confidence in Hansen’s selection, calling her “a very good choice.”

“She knows as many or more people as I do,” he said. “I thought I would be introducing her to people, but there is really no need. She has the organizational skills from her background; very intelligent, very capable and I think they made a good choice.”

Elaine Hansen has taken over as executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“Having been in the nonprofit world for many years and having worked with the board of directors, committees and volunteers, I’m well versed in this kind of activity as well as management of a nonprofit organization,” Hansen said.

Both agree that, despite some challenges, the business atmosphere in Austin is growing, particularly with the additions of Marshalls, Five Below and Pet Supplies Plus coming in 2019.

“The exciting thing about bringing more retail businesses into town is they’re a way to keep more overall retail dollars in town,” Hansen said. “People see more options, more ideas, and it will help them think about other things they can purchase here rather than traveling somewhere else or clicking on the web.”

“These businesses are now seeing the opportunity in Austin, and I think it’s past due,” Forstner said. “Austin is well positioned in Greater Minnesota, our population is growing slightly and our economy is solid. I think there is a real opportunity for more retail here.”

Both hope the new businesses will join the Chamber, saying that they would “welcome them with open arms.”

Although he has retired, Forstner said he still plans to be active in the community as a member of a Chamber committee and member of SCORE. He also plans to assist in the 2019 Governor’s Pheasant Opener, which will be held in Austin.

Hansen said she looks forward to connecting with Chamber members and the community.

“Austin is a really great community with people committed to success,” she said. “There are great opportunities for businesses to grow and expand as well as bring new businesses into town. It’s helping people see what a shining star Austin is in southeast Minnesota.”