Matt Baumgartner President of the Chamber, Passionate Advocate for Duluth
Many people speak glowingly of their hometowns. But not everyone can say they’ve made it their life’s work to make that town a better place. Matt Baumgartner, who was born and raised right here in Duluth, has made it his mission to do both.
Baumgartner has served as the President of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce since July 19th, 2021, upon the retirement of his long-time predecessor, David Ross.
Referencing his drive to pursue this role, Baumgartner said, “Duluth should be prosperous for everyone, and I believe that the Chamber is the organization best positioned to drive that vision. Leading the Chamber became a goal for me when I realized it was the convergence of my passions, including business, community, and leadership.”
In addition to forging ahead in a Duluth-centered profession, Baumgartner and his wife Amanda share a personal passion for the area, and believe Duluth is a great place to raise their two young children.
“Duluth offers natural beauty and amenities, a diverse local economy, and an adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit, which all converge in the Northland to bring unparalleled opportunity to our region,” Baumgartner said. “It is the reason that my wife and I remain steadfast in our desire to raise our children here.”
As noted, Baumgartner has lived in Duluth all his life. He grew up in the Chester Bowl area and now lives in Lakeside.
His father, Tab, has worked for St. Luke’s for nearly 40 years, while his mother, Susan, also has nearly 40 years’ tenure - with the City of Duluth. Baumgartner shared that his parents were an inspiration for the path he ultimately took in life.
“My parents instilled in me a spirit of community involvement and servant leadership,” he noted. “They both have served on numerous boards and commissions seeking to better our region for everyone.”
Baumgartner has four siblings: two sisters and two brothers, one of whom is his twin.
Education and Earlier Career
After graduating from Duluth Central High School, Baumgartner attended St. John’s University, where he studied business management. He also played basketball for the university.
Later, he attended Excelsior College, a private, non-profit institution in Albany, New York, where he earned his Master of Business Administration (MBA), with a concentration in accounting. Interestingly, Baumgartner’s late uncle, Dr. Bernard Schumacher, was an Associate Dean for the school.
Prior to working for the Chamber, Baumgartner worked at Grandma’s Restaurant Corporation, where he served as General Manager and Director of Government Affairs.
He began his career with the Chamber in 2016 and has held a variety of roles in subsequent years, including Board member (2017-2018), Chamber’s Executive Committee (2017-2018), Chair-elect (2018-2019), Chair (2019-2020), and Past-Chair (2020).
Over the years, he has also been active in civic organizations. From 2012-2017, Baumgartner served on the Board of Directors for the Lake Superior Marine Museum. He served as the President of the Canal Park Business Association, for nearly five years. Additionally, he was a participant on the Mayoral Downtown Task Force, the Spirit Mountain Task Force, and a was member of the FIRST Robotics Regional Planning Committee.
Currently, he is a member of the DECC Board of Directors, its Treasurer, and a Finance Committee member, and is the Chair of the Duluth Area YMCA Association Corporate Board.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has recently asked him to serve on their Chamber Executive Board (MCCE). Here, Baumgartner will be the only representative from the northern half of the state.
Baumgartner met his wife, Amanda – who is also from Duluth - in 2007, and they were married in 2012. Amanda is also an accomplished professional; she earned her Master’s degree in clinical social work from The College of St. Scholastica, and works as a psychotherapist for Essentia at Amberwing.
The couple have two young children: Ruby (3), and Benny (1). The Baumgartner family enjoys a wide variety of interests. Ruby loves skiing, and Benny loves exploring. Matt enjoys outdoor activities and reading. Amanda loves camping, yoga, reading, the outdoors, and traveling. They all love spending time together as a family.
In regards to Baumgartner’s goals, he had this to say. “Personally, my goals are just to have a healthy and happy family. Professionally, my goals are to help make Duluth realize its potential, and create a region that is the best place to raise a family. With that, we would have excellent business conditions with great jobs; public safety; equity and inclusion; great schools and access to education; access to reliable and affordable health care; an excellent quality of life; population growth; and tax base growth.”
Chamber – Next 150 years
The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated 150 years in 2020. Looking ahead, Baumgartner has big plans for the next 150. “I want to unfreeze our organization from any status quo and adopt a new and bigger vision,” he noted.
“We set out with an ambitious plan – for our organization as an enterprise, as an operation, and also for the work we do in service to our businesses and community,” he added. “This plan would reposition our Chamber and its ability to provide collaborative leadership and influence in our region.
“We conducted a deep, rigorous strategic planning process. It affirmed certain things we were doing well, and revealed other areas of opportunity where we could do better. Our events are top-notch and we have solid programs. We do well with membership retention. We have a strong communications department.
“However, we have opportunities. We need to lead on policy and advocacy. This should be central to our work as a Chamber. Yet, we have not had a person in this role for quite some time. I am proud to say we have a policy person now.
“We need financial resources to have a deeper impact on business conditions, economic development, and community development. I live and breathe finances, and our financial position, like many organizations, has been challenged by rising expenses, and we simply cannot just pass those through to our members.
“The research shows that successful large Chambers should have a Foundation to support the efforts of the Chamber. We have answered that call.
“Our new Foundation is now the largest Chamber Foundation in all of Northern Minnesota. It will support the work and mission of the Chamber and strive to improve economic opportunities, equity, and improved quality of life through research, education, advocacy, participating in charitable activities, and support of individuals, businesses, entrepreneurs, and economic transactors.
“By adding a policy person and establishing a Foundation, we are now positioned to be the most influential business advocacy organization in Northern Minnesota.”
When asked, Baumgartner can very quickly point out many reasons people may want to #befromDuluth.
“Raising a family requires access to medical care,” he said. “It requires great neighborhoods with public safety. It requires great education at all levels, and in Duluth we are fortunate to have great schools from K-12 AND Lake Superior College, CSS, and UMD.
“We also have world-class research being done on the industries of the future taking place at the Natural Resource Research Institute just off Highway 53 in Duluth,” he added. “So, we are truly educating for the future.”
He continued, “It also requires a vibrant, growing economy that is diverse enough to withstand industry downturns. Here, we have arts and entertainment, aviation, banking and financial services, clean energy, construction, higher education, IT, manufacturing, medical, natural resources, the port, recreation, retail, support service, tourism, and transportation.
“Who else can offer all of that (and more) buttressed by the outdoor opportunities we offer?! The four seasons have been mentioned – how about four seasons of fishing? We also have Hartley, Lester Park, Hawk Ridge, the Lakewalk, Chester Bowl, Spirit Mountain, St. Louis River, Grassy Point, Lincoln Park, Piedmont, the Rose Garden, Western Waterfront, Willard Munger, and the Superior Hiking Trail. Further, we have Park Point and Bayfront Park, which is operated by the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
“And I might also note that in our world-class port in Duluth, we are quite literally the intersection of wilderness and commerce. I think that is a nice microcosm for ‘why Duluth.’”