Saturday, May 08, 2021

Kalispell Chamber hands baton to seasoned leader

| November 15, 2020 12:00 AM

An exciting new chapter has begun for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce as its staff and members welcome new President and Chief Executive Officer Lorraine Clarno. Retiring CEO Joe Unterreiner has handed off the baton to Clarno’s capable hands and she’s off and running.

During a presentation to the Flathead County commissioners on Thursday, Clarno acknowledged she’ll have “very, very big shoes” to fill, stepping into a job Unterreiner spent 24 years at. To his credit, Unterreiner accomplished a lot on his watch. He was an integral player in many Kalispell accomplishments, including Glacier Rail Park, the U.S. 93 bypass, creation of the Kalispell tourism district, expanded air service and the launch of the Discover Kalispell brand.

It’s now time to look to the future, though, and build on those past accomplishments. Clarno is coming onboard during an extremely challenging time for local businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stress all sectors of the business community.

She told the commissioners she considers the ongoing impacts of the virus the No. 1 issue facing Kalispell entrepreneurs. We expect Clarno will be a strong cheerleader and the Chamber a strong resource for our small businesses that continue to be the backbone of the Flathead economy.

She will lead the Chamber’s oversight of the upcoming Montana legislative session and keep tabs on proposed bills that aim to strengthen the business community. The city of Kalispell has worked out its policy positions that range from support for a local option sales tax to addressing infrastructure needs associated with rapid growth.

Clarno has the skill set to be an effective business leader for the Kalispell Chamber. She previously worked for the Beaverton, Oregon, Area Chamber of Commerce, serving as CEO for the organization in the Portland-area suburb for 20 years. In that role, Clarno grew that organization into the largest inclusive Chamber of Commerce in the state of Oregon.

During her tenure in Beaverton, she launched various business initiatives, including an economic partnership with the city of Beaverton to serve micro and small-business startups and a business recovery center to help businesses reopen and deal with COVID-19 challenges.

At this critical time for our business community, we need a proven leader who can methodically build the structure and resources needed to survive not only during this pandemic but in a post-pandemic world, whatever that may bring.

Clarno said she feels her experience and the opportunities in Kalispell are a “perfect match.” And wisely, she also acknowledged the learning curve that comes with her new job.

We look forward to Clarno’s leadership, and believe the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce — and our local businesses — have a very bright future.