GALION — After serving 18 years as president of the Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce, Joe Kleinknecht has decided its finally time to retire … for good.
His last day will be Friday, May 29. Miranda Jones was named as his successor several weeks ago and is now trying to fill his wide shoes.
Kleinknecht has a long history of working in the community, retiring from Columbia Gas after 40 years and having served on Galion City Council.
“I had been working with another company as a contractor back with Columbia Gas and I thought about (applying for the chamber president position). I’ve lived here all my life and worked here all my life,” he said. “I thought it was something I would like. I really didn’t know what a chamber of commerce was or what a chamber of commerce did, but I applied for it and I got the job.”
During his service as president, Kleinknecht said many accomplishments have been made in the business district.
“When I started, the city helped finance the chamber. We got $70,000 a year and our budget was only $110,000. Chambers usually don’t get city money. Then, when (the city) went into fiscal emergency back in 2004, that stipend was discontinued so we lost some 60 percent of our income.
And to get through that and continue to grow and continue to prosper … I think that’s the biggest thing, we were able to make up that $70,000.
“I knew going in that we could not be funded by the city because we’re the advocate for the business community and you advocate with the city on issues all the time,” he added. “You can’t hardly be paid by them and then go to them and tell them we don’t think they have a good sign ordinance. Or we don’t think the electric rates are fair.
“So it really was a blessing in disguise, as now we’re totally self-funded. About 50 percent of our funding comes from special projects and commissions off medical insurance, workman’s compensation and natural gas and electric programs. The other 50 percent comes from membership dues. That’s a really good split.”
To also help funding, Kleinknecht said they started a holiday open house and a manufacturing breakfast.
“We did a lot of things to generate non-dues income,” he said. “But they were good things that were good for the business community.”
Besides advocating for local business, Kleinknecht noted the chamber also provides a worker’s compensation group rating program where businesses can save up to 53 percent off their BWC costs.
“We also have a natural gas and electric program through a company out of Toledo that’s called Alternative Energy Source. Another big accomplishment was when Crestline joined and we became the Galion-Crestline Chamber of Commerce. The other thing we have is medical insurance through Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, where people can save a percentage of their premiums by being in the chamber program.”
Kleinknecht said when he took over as president they had about 230 business members. They went as high as 366 and right now are around 340.
“Once we started showing value to our members, more joined,” he said.
He said it’s important that cities have chambers because “if businesses do well, everything does well. Communities rise and fall on the success of the business community.”
Kleinknecht said he decided now was the time to retire because he’s worked for 60 years straight.
“Technology has changed and we hired Miranda about three years ago and she just comes in and she’ll handle that type of thing, and she does a great job,” he said. “The world changes. I was born working with a manual typewriter, so to come from there to where we are now days with technology, it’s sometimes hard for people our age to keep up with.
”I love the people and I love the relationships and I’ll miss that part of it. But it’s the right time.”
He noted he and his wife plan on making a few trips to Florida to see their daughter, but mostly, Kleinknecht said he’ll keep busy working in is yard and relaxing.