Chamber president takes new job
Van Helden served for a decade, moving across town to Rixmann Cos.
Burnsville Chamber of Commerce President Daron Van Helden has led the business association from tough times to mild recovery.
His next job holds more immediate growth potential.
After 10 years with the chamber, Van Helden has accepted a job in community and regulatory affairs for Burnsville-based Rixmann Cos., which owns Pawn America, Payday America and CashPass Network.
Van Helden said he’ll be part of a team leading an ambitious expansion plan for Pawn America, which already operates in five states and is adding its 24th store this summer in Inver Grove Heights.
“There’s just a good fit,” said Van Helden, 39, who will move across town from the chamber’s Heart of the City offices to Rixmann Cos. headquarters north of Highway 13. “It’s a great business south of the river. I love Burnsville. It’s a great opportunity to stay in this marketplace but also expand horizons. It’s a company I’ve gotten to know very well over the last number of years” along with its CEO, Brad Rixmann.
Hired by the Burnsville chamber in 2002 to replace Barb Obershaw, who left to head the Twin West Chamber of Commerce, Van Helden came to the chamber from Burnsville-based AAA Minnesota-Iowa, where he worked in lobbying and public relations.
Van Helden was an active chamber member before being hired, serving on the policy committee and later the board of directors.
The chamber was launching a political action committee when Van Helden was hired and has raised its profile in the community, with PAC endorsements for local offices and occasional board statements on high-profile issues such as the Performing Arts Center. The chamber supported the $20 million city project.
Van Helden has been a fixture at City Council meetings and other events.
“In working with Daron, the one thing that I really came to appreciate was the personal connections that he had with the members of our business community,” said current board Chair Dennis Diessner of Kraus Anderson Insurance. “I was fortunate enough to sit next to him at a State of the City speech when I first became chair and realized that everybody that walked into that theater said hello to Daron, and he knew them and had a personal comment for them.”
Van Helden took a “personal interest” in causes on behalf of the chamber and individual members, Diessner said.
The city’s sign ordinance — a perennial local business issue — was reviewed more than once during his tenure, and each time the city loosened restrictions, Van Helden said.
“It’s comforting to have seen that many of those fears were unfounded and life goes on and it doesn’t upset folks, and business continues to happen in a respectful and responsible sort of way,” Van Helden said.
Years of work to secure funding for a new interchange at Highway 13 and County Road 5 was a key accomplishment for local businesses and government alike, Van Helden said. Construction will begin next year.
He recalled the 2010 reconstruction of Burnsville Parkway from Aldrich Avenue to Parkwood Drive, the largest city road project in Burnsville history. The construction zone took a toll on Burnsville Parkway businesses. In the weakened economy, some had asked the city to delay the project.
“I think the fair thing to say is a number of businesses, and we supported them, questioned whether that needed to be done at that time given the economic conditions and the impact to the businesses,” Van Helden said.
He’s heard his share of hard-luck stories from local business people and saw some of them forced out of business during the Great Recession and its aftermath.
“Part of the temperament of the position is out of respect for all of that,” Van Helden said.
During tough times, local chamber dues can seem a luxury to some business owners. Membership in the Burnsville chamber, which consistently ranks among the 10 largest in the metro area, hit a pre-recession high of 628 before falling, Van Helden said.
Membership has since rebounded to 575, he said.
“We leaned heavily on some of our best supporters” during the downturn, said Van Helden, whose position is one of 2.5 in the chamber office. “Things have begun to turn around a bit. I’d say it’s very reflective of the overall economy and the general economic sense right now. People call it a holding pattern.”
Van Helden will leave the chamber Aug. 7 and begin work the next day for Rixmann Cos. He’s not the only Burnsville civic leader hired by CEO Brad Rixmann. City Council member Dan Kealey is director of new business development and community affairs. Chuck Armstrong, Rixmann’s community affairs director, is a chamber board member.
Brad Rixmann has been a major player in debates over secondhand-goods dealer licensing and secondhand-goods tracking requirements in Burnsville.
Media stories have painted him as a political donor with growing clout in mostly Republican circles. Rixmann’s philanthropic efforts have included support for the Boys and Girls Clubs — including $260,000 in pledges for a club being developed in Burnsville.
The opportunity to be part of the Pawn America expansion was appealing, Van Helden said.
“Brad and I go to the same church,” he said. “Brad and I have had lots of conversations over the years. We have both a personal and professional relationship. Chuck and I will be working together on this stuff. With their pending expansion, they just needed a little more capacity on the inside.”