SHERIDAN — Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson was named Executive Director of the Year from the Wyoming Chamber of Commerce Association at its Fall Conference in Gillette on Thursday night.

Laura Lehan, principal consultant at Peak Consulting was one of three people to nominate Johnson for the award. The Chamber of Commerce Association has not released the names of the other two nominators.

“Dixie Johnson works tirelessly to meet the needs of her members,” Lehan wrote in a form nominating Johnson. “She is one of those leaders that continually looks for ways to improve the organization and have an even greater impact on our business community and the community at large.”

The Sheridan Press sat down with Johnson to learn more about how her work impacts the Sheridan community.

 

The Sheridan Press: What does the Chamber of Commerce do?

Dixie Johnson: In essence, we really exist to serve protect and promote our members and more so the entire community.

We serve our business community first and foremost but we’re very involved in the protection and growth of the entire community, kind of being that champion for the community.

While we maybe don’t have all of the resources under our roof, we have a lot of partnerships across the community so we can connect those people with those resources.

We have a great Sheridan County leadership program, and several other communities have actually kind of copied or used our template and started their own so that’s really, that’s neat to see.

We rely really heavily not just on our board of directors, which are volunteers, but also all those community members that are participating in and helping out on our committees.

 

TSP: What’s new?

DJ: The Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee started a youth business ventures, which really is to support and promote youth entrepreneurism and have actually awarded… $1000 to help these entrepreneurs to start these business and this year so far $500.

Recently, last year we were able to help start the next generation manufacturing sector partnership, which is off and going pretty strong now in Sheridan and Johnson (counties).

 

TSP: What are some of the major things you’re working on now?

DJ: (We are working on) our curriculum change for the leadership program. And so that’s exciting, and our new class will start in January so we encourage people to apply to that. It’s a really strong program.

We’ll be having an expanded manufacturing day. We’ll expand it from one day to three days in our community.

We’re working on our legislative forum. That’s a great way where we help our community and especially our businesses in different sectors from within our community connect to our legislators prior to them going down to the legislative session.

We do a lot around our Think Local First campaign. So Think Local First is otherwise known as a shop local campaign but we think it’s broader than just shopping local. It’s more about getting people to understand that the community that they live in if they invest in that community, that means dollars are injected into the community, they turn over several times. It means job security for yourself, it means jobs for your friends, your family, etc., and it means healthier, more vibrant businesses.

One of the tools that we use to measure that are our Chamber bucks, and so we have consistently seen an increase in people using Chamber bucks and those are great because those are kept. Well over $100,000 last year that we know was kept in this community and turned over again and again.

We think a lot more now than ever people are starting to realize the importance of keeping their own, doing business locally… Anything we can do to help our businesses grow and be strong we will do that.

One of the things that many of our members say they like about our chamber is that we keep abreast of new resources.

 

TSP: How long have you been working with the Chamber of Commerce?

DJ: I started working with this chamber of commerce in January of 2011. I’ve been CEO since I was hired.

I started serving on the board of the Wyoming Chamber of Commerce in 2012 and I will be finishing my final term with them at the end of this year.

 

TSP: What did you do before?

DJ: I spent several years in the hospitality industry. I worked nine years for our local Holiday Inn Convention Center, worked in sales and catering roles there, and in between that career and joining our Chamber I spent a small stint with the Big Horn Home Builders Association.

I also serve on the Tongue River Valley Community Center’s board. I also sit on the Wyoming Chambers Health Benefit Board of Directors, I sit on the Sheridan-Johnson County’s Air Service Team Board of Directors.

 

TSP: Anything else you’d like to say about yourself?

DJ: I love my job, I love what I do, I love serving other people, I love helping our community, and so… every night I go to bed I think it’s awesome that I get to do what I do.

 

TSP: What would you like to see the Chamber be able to do in the future?

DJ: Just to know that what we do matters. It’s not necessarily what the Chamber does, it’s more about the growth and the health of our community. And so being a part of that is really rewarding.

I, of course, think we live in the best community not only in the state but in the region, maybe the country, and if I didn’t think that I’m probably in the wrong spot right? I think that there’s always room to continue to do more.

I would say the Chamber of the future needs to make sure that we are aware of the needs especially of our business community and not only being responsive, but also being out ahead of, being aware of some things that might be affecting our businesses.

We’re kind of in the relationship business, right? So it’s important that we keep those relationships really strong as well.

 

TSP: What kind of challenges have there been in your time here?

DJ: In recent years I think the challenges that we have aren’t necessarily Chamber-specific but the challenges of housing and inventory and having the housing to be able to attract the jobs. So when we see our businesses grow and expand, that’s awesome — it’s amazing, but our businesses need to have a skilled workforce. So making sure that we continue to stay abreast of what’s happening with our community college and working with our schools and helping in those workforce areas I think are really important.

I think growth is great but growth has to be managed as much as it possibly can.

 

TSP: What’s your favorite part of the job?

DJ: One of the things that I really enjoy (is) when a connection is made and we’ve had a part in that. So whether it’s a connection of two people that I know or we know or we think need to know each other because they can create some great things doing business with each other, or whether it’s a connection with information, somebody’s looking at either visiting or relocating to our community and we’re able to help connect them, draw them a picture of our community, I think that’s really, really rewarding.