Patty Brown didn’t plan to lead the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade; it was a role that she slowly fell into.
Brown has been part of the local business community since 1982 when she began an internship at Red Wing Software. Later, as a small-businesses owner and Realtor, Brown became a chamber member and one of its ambassadors.
In 2009, a board member approached Brown to step in when the director post became vacant. She recalled, “So I took over as interim director, and then they did a big national search to fill the position. And one of the board people came to me afterward and said, ‘You're just perfect for this job, you should just do this job.’”
Eventually, Brown did apply for the position.
“And here we are, 11 ½ years later.," she said. It wasn't one of those: ‘That's the career I want.’ But after going through all the experiences in my life, it was a perfect fit.”
Brown defines herself as a “people person,” so the ability to interact with individuals throughout the city excites her.
“I love meeting people and talking with people -- talking with business people specifically -- and finding out what makes them tick, where their challenges are, where there 'wins' are, and just keeping alive the entire business community and how we all work together," she said.
That love made the pandemic hard for Brown.
“It’s been night and day difference,” she said.
But a lot of good came from working to adapt the organization to the challenge. Brown explained, “We earned how to use Zoom meetings to our advantage. We have really beefed up our trainings and our educational seminars and forums that we were able to offer people. That has been a real plus, because it's much easier to tune into something quick at your desk.”
The programs that Brown worked to implement, both before and during the pandemic, have helped the local business community, said Megan Tsui, the executive director of Downtown Main Street.
“Patty and I were colleagues in economic development in Red Wing since I became executive director of Downtown Main Street in 2016. We served on various committees together and worked to support and champion businesses in Red Wing. Patty's weekly Enews has become a powerful tool for the local business community to learn about events, projects and updates," Tsui said.
Downtown Main Street looks forward to working with Michelle Larson, Brown's successor on collaborative projects, Tsui added. "Our organizations are going to be even more important given the toll the pandemic has had on our businesses and community.”
Sean Dowse, the former mayor of Red Wing and former Sheldon Theatre executive director, called Brown a truly great Red Wing Area Chamber executive director.
“She really brought it back. It was in kind of financial trouble when she got hired and really found the business model that worked for that group and really made it important for visitors and businesses and people in Red Wing and the region," he said.
Brown said now is the right time to step down given what’s happening in her home life.
“Now with distance learning, I'll be spending more time with my grandkids and helping my daughter and her family get through distance learning and be an aide for them. And then I'm also going to go back into real estate with my husband," she said "It's just time for us to be able to maybe have a little more flexible schedule. Our calendar at the chamber is always full and always has multiple things going on.”
Larson, the former executive director of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce, will take over in an official capacity on Feb. 16.