‘Strong Voice’ for Chippewa Falls Retires After 25 Years
Mike Jordan avoided the limelight as leader of C.F. Area Chamber of Commerce
For 25 years, Mike Jordan had a literal front-row seat to the evolution of the City of Chippewa Falls and its business community.
As president of the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Jordan spent a quarter century directly and indirectly involved in major decisions that impacted the community, helping advocate for businesses large and small.
Jordan, who officially retired Nov. 23, vividly remembers visiting Chippewa Falls for the first time when he interviewed for the job in 1997. He and his wife, Carol, drove across the bridge over the Chippewa River, passed the Xcel Energy dam, and into the picturesque downtown. “We could live here,” he recalls saying. “This feels right.”
Jordan’s family soon relocated from his native Iowa, and he set to work with what was then a small organization with just 1½ full-time employees. Under Jordan’s leadership, the chamber began to grow, from 270 members in 1997 to 715 today. Within a few years, the organization had a contract with the city to promote tourism in exchange for money collected from motel room taxes. Later, the chamber helped create a nonprofit organization, Chippewa Partners, which runs the city’s annual Oktoberfest celebration and owns the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.
“In 1997, it wasn’t really looked at as the leader of the business community, and it now is,” Jordan said of the chamber. “And it’s a testament to the community and the community leadership that we’ve been able to accomplish that.”
He’s never been a leader in the limelight, he’s always been a leader behind the scenes.
chippewa falls area chamber of commerce board chair
Unlike the basketball legend whose name he shares, Jordan hasn’t spent much time in the headlines. “He’s never been a leader in the limelight, he’s always been a leader behind the scenes,” said Amy Forcier-Pabst, who chairs the chamber’s board. Jordan has been willing to collaborate with the city, county, state, and other entities to accomplish his goals, she said.
Such leadership was especially notable during the height of the pandemic, when Jordan helped steer the organization and its members through trying times, Forcier-Pabst said. “He has a strong voice, but it’s been about collaboration,” she said.
When Jordan was hired to run the chamber in 1997, it operated out of a small office on North Bridge Street, and within a year moved into a former Hardee’s restaurant down the street. Since 2015, however, it’s been a brand-new building at 1 N. Bridge St., the construction of which was part of a major transformation of the entryway into downtown. This transformation – which also involved the creation of Riverfront Park and the construction of a traffic roundabout and a new headquarters for engineering firm SEH – is a good example of the work the chamber has done during Jordan’s tenure.
“My board came to the conclusion that we should be part of the catalyst for the redevelopment of our downtown,” he said. The result is a chamber and tourism office that impresses visitors of all kinds, including those interested in investing in the community.
“We hosted the owner of a business here,” Jordan recalled with satisfaction, “and he walked in our first meeting in our conference room, and he said, ‘Holy cow, what’s going on in this town?’”
“My board came to the conclusion that we should be part of the catalyst for the redevelopment of our downtown.”
outgoing chamber of commerce president
One of the biggest changes of the past 25 years, Jordan noted, was the construction of a bypass that carried state Highway 29, which used to cut directly through downtown, to the periphery of the city instead. Before the bypass, semi trucks were sometimes backed up through the middle of town, and some travelers dreaded passing through Chippewa Falls. Now, the volume of traffic through downtown has bounced back, he said, but those vehicles carry visitors who see the downtown as a destining for retail, dining, and professional businesses.
“We still have that local charm,” Jordan said, and that includes having a viable downtown.
“That’s really important for the community and our ability to attract and retain talent,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who want that quaint feel, and having those amenities is very important.”
Beyond the downtown, the community has maintained its manufacturing economy, providing between 6,000 and 7,000 manufacturing jobs – an impressive total for a city with about 15,000 residents, Jordan noted. “We’re exporting materials out of our community, and I like to say we’re importing cash into our community,” he said.
But the growth of the business sector is not without its challenges, Jordan notes: Chippewa Falls is almost out of developable land within the city limits, and it also faces the long-term puzzle of finding enough employees to replace those leaving the workforce.
Jordan’s last day with the chamber was Nov. 23, while Allyson Wisniewski’s first day as the group’s new president was Nov. 28. Wisniewski, who most recently worked at UW-Eau Claire, previously spent 10 years as tourism director for the chamber of commerce.
Jordan praises on his successor, saying the chamber is in good hands. “She’s very capable and will do a fantastic job running this organization into the future,” he said.
But he’s humble about his own tenure. “Nothing was done by Mike Jordan,” he said modestly. “It takes so many people to make things happen. We built great coalitions, great teams over the years to accomplish stuff. I am very happy that we’ve been able to build an organization here.”