From Hutchinson to Burnsville
New chamber president has business background
Bill Corby doesn’t officially start as president of the Burnsville Chamber of Commerce until Sept. 4.
But the Hutchinson resident was already in town this week, scouting for office space with the chamber’s executive committee.
The chamber is losing its lease at the Parkway Place building on Burnsville Parkway, along with all the other tenants. Owner Pinehurst Properties is reportedly selling the building.
“Nothing like jumping right in, right?” Corby said. “I don’t know any details on it. All I know is we have to be out by Oct. 31.”
Corby didn’t know when he sought the job that moving the office would be his first task, but he’s proved adaptable over a series of careers in office products, portrait photography and chamber executive leadership.
He’s been president of the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau for five years. Before that, Corby owned a Hutchinson portrait studio.
“It was a tremendous asset to have that business background, just to understand what business owners go through,” said Corby, who was raised in Bloomington and graduated from the old Lincoln High School in 1977. “Being through it myself – I would call it a microbusiness – but most business owners are the same in their ups and downs.”
Corby succeeds Daron Van Helden as president of the 47-year-old Burnsville chamber, which claims 575 members. Van Helden left after 10 years to join Burnsville-based Pawn America, which is in an aggressive expansion phase.
“Daron left a strong platform for Bill to operate from, and similarly, he brings with him a strong reputation in the chamber industry,” Burnsville chamber Board Chair Dennis Diessner said in a statement.
Corby, who has an associate’s degree in marketing from Normandale Community College and a degree in small-business management from Ridgewater College, worked in office products for 14 years, starting when he was in high school.
“I started in the warehouse, went into delivery driving, went into sales, and kind of worked my way up through the ranks,” said Corby, who worked for four different Twin Cities-area companies from 1975 to 1989.
Corby then turned to photography, until then only a hobby. “I call it my drug of choice,” he said. Corby worked for studio photographers as well as for Fingerhut, where he photographed merchandise.
He and his wife, Sue, moved to Hutchinson, where her parents lived, and bought a photography studio that was about to close.
“It took us about five years to rebuild it, and we ran it for another eight,” Corby said. “To the best of my knowledge, we were the second studio in the state to go digital. We made that leap in 1999.”
By 2007, the business was changing, and Corby found himself in a more competitive marketplace. Would-be customers were also doing more of their own photography on their new digital equipment. And Corby sensed a creeping economic chill.
“It was still OK, but we kind of saw something coming,” he said. “We didn’t know it was going to be near as bad as it was. In our business we could see the coming changes six months to a year in advance based on the number of sessions or average order sizes.”
When the chamber job opened in Hutchinson in 2007, Corby made another career switch.
“I’d been very active in the community and various different areas of volunteering and the business community,” he said. “So it was a good fit, and one thing led to another, and there I was.”
About 45 miles west of Minneapolis, Hutchinson is “where the prairie meets the big woods,” Corby said, citing a familiar label. “Hutchinson is where your trees kind of end as you come out of Minneapolis on Highway 7.”
The Hutchinson chamber has about 320 members, compared with Burnsville’s 575.
“I was looking for a chamber where I could step up a little bit in the size of the operation and bring some of my expertise and talent to that position,” Corby said.
Outside of Hutchinson, Corby chairs the board of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Executives group. He’s on the board of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce educational program called the Institute for Organization Management.
He and his wife, who have four children ages 19 to 27, are looking to relocate to Burnsville, Corby said.