Tom Sega leads a Zoom conversation with Matt Baumgartner, the President of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, on this week’s episode of Leader of the Pack, a podcast by Duluth Pack. In this podcast episode, Matt shares how his background has led him to become the President of the Chamber of Commerce, along with the goals he is working on to help move businesses and the community of Duluth forward.
Background on Matt
Tom asks Matt about growing up to understand how he became who he is today. Matt explains that his parents were originally from the Iron Range of Minnesota. His father worked in mining and his mother owned multiple businesses. His parents then moved to Duluth, where Matt was born and raised, along with his four siblings, including his twin brother. After moving to Duluth, Matt’s mother went to work for the City of Duluth and his father worked for St. Luke’s hospital. Growing up, Matt went to a Holy Rosary and then attended Duluth Central High, where he graduated in 2002. After high school, Matt went to the University at Saint John’s for business and later received his master’s degree from Excelsior College for business administration with a focus on accounting.
After graduating with a business degree, Matt thought his career would lead him into the corporate realm in the finance sector. This was true initially as Matt worked for the Grandma’s Corporation, which is in Duluth, Minnesota, for nearly fifteen years. During his time working for Grandma’s Corporation, Matt became heavily involved with the Duluth community. Matt has served on the Canal Park Business Association as the President and on several boards including the YMCA, Lake Superior Marine Museum, and the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. Tom comments on Matt’s contributions and the leadership he gave to the Canal Park Business Association, highlighting Matt’s commitment to the business community. This commitment would go on to serve Matt well with the Chamber of Commerce.
Current Role as President of the Chamber of Commerce
Joining the board of the Chamber of Commerce in 2015 was the perfect meld for Matt. He had a strong desire to be active with the community and to be involved with the economic driver that businesses can be for that community. Being a part of this board was fulfilling for Matt and he thought that would be his commitment to the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. He talks with Tom about how fortunate he feels that everything came together for him to take on a greater role as the leader and President of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. While Tom and Matt talk about his background and what makes him a great asset in this position, Tom asks Matt what advice he would give out if he could. To this question, Matt says, “Keep your eyes open and if you see an opportunity out there, go for it! Believe in yourself.”
Many roles have ambiguity within them and change day to day, but Tom asks Matt to explain some highlights of his work routine. Matt explains that his position is constantly changing from day to day, but from his past experiences, he believes that strong communication is essential.
Matt has made hearing from members of the Chamber and listening to their needs a focus to ensure that communication is at the forefront. To accomplish this, Matt has multiple meetings a day to learn from others and work to improve. Matt and Tom talk about COVID-19 and the impact and changes it has had on businesses everywhere. They then discuss how Matt and his team are working to assist businesses to overcome the challenges that businesses are facing. Matt had previously been in the restaurant industry and saw the effects of the pandemic heavily. Though COVID-19 has presented many challenges, Matt speaks about the resilience and the entrepreneurship of Duluthians to make things happen to be successful and overcome those difficulties. Now that the pandemic restrictions are easing up, the Chamber of Commerce is working to assist businesses and grow the city of Duluth, Minnesota. Tom asks what Matt, and the Chamber are seeing as opportunities to improve Duluth and support the local members of the Chamber of Commerce. The primary issue that the Chamber of Commerce has seen in Duluth is the staffing needs of businesses in all sectors. Matt explains that this problem is potentially a good one to have because it means that economically Duluth is moving forward, and labor needs are growing with this. The Chamber of Commerce is working on finding solutions to re-engage the labor force that left the workforce during COVID-19 and retain talent from graduating universities in the area. They are working to push Duluth to become an easier city to work with and create the mindset that this growth is positive for locals and needed for Duluth to thrive and grow the labor force. Historically Duluth has been seen as difficult to work with for construction and permitting. The Chamber of Commerce is working with the city to change this reputation and spread the word that Duluth is ready and ultimately prepared for growth.
Tom and Matt discuss several challenges and opportunities that Duluth has for the future and talk about the political line that Matt must walk working for the Chamber of Commerce and interacting with so many facets of the local government. Tom inquires, “How do you handle that?” Matt responds by saying that complex challenges require compromise, and people cannot view problems with absolutes. Tom mentions, that people can sometimes feel they have the entire story when that is not the case and become vocal online. Tom follows by asking Matt, “What are your thoughts on dealing with this?” Matt jokingly responds, “Don’t read comments on social media, we would all be happier.” Tom says that he could not agree more, commenting that he does not do social media for that reason.
Throughout this episode, Tom and Matt talk about many portions of Matt’s life and how he gained the experiences that led him to be the President of the Chamber of Commerce. While learning about Matt’s background, we also get a sense of the exciting future that Duluth can have with businesses coming out of the pandemic restrictions. Matt highlights that the Chamber of Commerce is there to support businesses and their members. No matter where they are in the lifecycle of their business, the Chamber of Commerce is there to help! Thank you, Matt, for sharing your story with us. We cannot wait to see you continue to grow in your role and leading the Chamber of Commerce for the Duluth Area.