MBA Student Benefits Owatonna Chamber of Commerce, Workforce

As published in MN Business Valley Journal

February 05, 2018 |

David C. Olson left a lasting mark on the statewide business

community and all Minnesotans through his work and legacy. He served as president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for more than 23 years and built the chamber to represent more than 2,300 Minnesota companies, 130 local chambers and 65 business trade associations. Olson also went on to serve as a trustee with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (now Minnesota State) and served as chair from 2007-2010. Olson passed away in 2014 after a battle with cancer.


Last summer, Olson’s sister Mary Claire had an idea to continue his impact on the Minnesota business community indefinitely by partnering with Minnesota State Mankato to raise funds to endow an MBA scholarship and semester-long internship with a chamber of commerce each year.


“They wanted to honor David’s legacy because he was so involved in Minnesota as president of the Minnesota Chamber and he did so many great things around the state,” said Marilyn Fox, director of the MBA program. “They wanted him to be remembered in a way that someone else would benefit and that partnerships were created, because he believed in that so much.”


The internship provision of the scholarship – in which the recipient will work in a local or the state chamber of commerce – was designed to give MBA students hands-on experience with the work that chambers do in pulling businesses together and coordinating efforts for the greater good of a community. It’s a unique view, and not one typically given to business majors, MBA candidates or even professionals on the job.


As word went out and applications came in, chambers from around the state submitted their proposals based on their unique needs. In the end, the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce was selected as the partnering chamber for the first year.


Ellie James, a Waseca native, was the 2016-17 recipient of the inaugural David C. Olson scholarship.


This was not an MBA student who needed hand-holding in the field – James is a full-time human resources employee for Rice County. She is also on the board of the Elysian, Minnesota, Chamber of Commerce. She received her undergraduate degree from Minnesota State Mankato in management with a focus on human resources. 


As both sides describe it, chamber staff pointed the way and James took it from there. A key issue in Owatonna was much the same as in other communities - building and maintaining a solid workforce to fill job vacancies. 


“They provided me with a number of ideas, and I took it upon myself to do a ton of research identifying what I thought would be the best method to help the community,” James said. She coordinated meetings with business leaders and established key paths to address the shortage.


Owatonna Chamber CEO Brad Meier described James as a self-starter who provided the chamber with great energy and research while learning the intricacies of how chambers and businesses connect with and help each other.


“We wanted to give her direction, but then give her the ability to pull it together, to create something out of nothing and give her the opportunity to present her work to really high-level companies, and she was able to do that,” Meier said. “And for us, clearly moving the ball forward on a key issue for the business community, which is workforce. That’s a huge benefit to us.”


Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-18 scholarship and internship experience. If you are a Chamberof Commerce interested in submitting a project proposal contact the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce at 651.292.4650. Minnesota State Mankato MBA students, either enrolled or interested in pursing their MBA, can learn more about the scholarship at 

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