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Trailblazer award winner leads the chamber and more

LouAnne Berg, CEO of J&L Steel and Electrical Services, is the new chair of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau and is an active member of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

LouAnne Berg moved her business, J&L Steel and Electrical Services, to Hudson in 2008. Since then she has become a vital force in the community and the state.

"What is so funny is that I've been in business for 33 years and I had no idea what a chamber of commerce was," said LouAnne Berg, the new chair of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau. "So when we moved here, it is what everyone talked about. In my business, primarily bridge building, we probably have less than 10 customers -- there are only so many bridge builders in Minnesota and Wisconsin."

"It was a whole different view," said Berg, when she joined the chamber. "It has been a good experience to see how well our chamber is run. The board is just to give them oversight."

Berg jumped right in, beginning with participation in the LEADS group, and at the present time her son Jon Reger is the chair of one of the LEADS groups.

"The whole LEADS concept is terrific. You network, get references and recommendations not only for your business but for your own needs," said Berg, who found a roofer through the group. Members of the LEADS group become friends outside of the group as well.

"When they asked me to become chair elect, I wondered, 'do I know enough,'" said Berg, who ultimately said yes, and brings her professionalism and enthusiasm to the job.

"There is just so much in this town," Berg continued. "I think what surprised me is how much they do, all the events. It is great for our community. They are highly respected in the community."

"I think our members understand the value of the chamber," said Berg. "I am working on a strategy to get large manufacturers and industry involved. The chamber makes life better for all of their employees but provides so many activities for everyone to do in Hudson."

Berg is excited about the chamber's new ad campaign, "Say Hello to Hudson," which is designed to let people know Hudson is a place people want to come to and stay.

On the bridge

Berg joined the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing the moment is was formed a year ago. Not only as an active member on the board of the Hudson Chamber, but a business owner as well. The group is made up of business leaders, government representatives and other area stakeholders from both sides of the St. Croix River. There are six from each state and they have met every month for the last year. From being active in parades, to traveling to Washington, D.C., to fundraising, the group feels that a new bridge is closer to reality than ever before.

"There is a bigger picture here, beyond the prospect my company might get some work if construction is approved," said Berg. "Generally when there is a project in your back yard it is a bigger challenge to get the bid."

"It is about the whole area and what a project like that would bring and the impact it will have on the region," continued Berg, who remains enthusiastic about the prospect of the bridge becoming a reality.

"It was very exciting to meet Senator Amy Klobuchar," said Berg. "Her father and my father went to school together in Ely."

"I have been able to share my perspective with other members, having been in the business of building bridges," said Berg. "It is time for this. I never thought in my wildest dreams the I-35 bridge could have collapsed."

According to Berg, the bridge issue is still an uphill battle which has been difficult.

"It would mean a lot to people in our industry," said Berg. "It is also about putting people back to work."

With the Stillwater lift bridge scheduled to close in September of 2012 for a period of nearly four months, Hudson will feel the same impact that Stillwater does all the time, according to Berg.

Trailblazer Award

It was recently announced that Berg was one of 14 women in Wisconsin to earn the Trailblazer Award. The award was established in 2007 and it has been awarded to 44 Wisconsin women owners businesses in 22 different counties.

Berg is the real deal. She has owned and operated J&L Steel and Electrical since 1977. The electrical services were added in 2008.

"I have received other awards but this one just blew me away," said Berg, who was an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year finalist in 2010. "Senator Sheila Harsdorf nominated me for it. I think that is what makes the award more special."

Being a woman owner in a male dominated field isn't always easy. Berg is always looking for ways to change and improve the company with the combined goals of improving productivity and employee satisfaction. J&L Steel and Electrical Services is a certified DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise). This is a federal program for women and minority contractors.

"Regardless I have to fight tooth and nail to get each contract," said Berg. Last year's shutdown of Minnesota's government created problems which Berg's company is still trying to overcome. They are the subcontractor on the Hastings bridge and when the government shut down, so did the project.

Berg will receive her Trailblazer Award in March. This is the information included in the press release about the award winners:

LouAnne Berg was a single mom on welfare taking record keeping and business classes and never imagined she would someday borrow $1,000 from her mom and start a steel erection company. In 1977, at age 26, she started J&L, with her former husband, as a steel erection business. As a young, female business owner in the male-dominated construction industry, she faced and overcame many obstacles. Her colleagues note that she persevered with integrity and sound business decisions to earn the respect of many contractors, suppliers and industry leaders. She was a subcontractor rebuilding I-35W after the collapse. In 2008, in a tough economy, she expanded into electrical services. Today, J&L averages $15M in sales annually. LouAnne has received numerous industry honors and is a founder of the Association of Women Contractors. She is active in cultivating other women business owners and in giving back to her community. LouAnne is the 2012 incoming president of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce.

Whether you are talking contracts, community functions or lobbying efforts for a new bridge, LouAnne Berg has energy to spare and knowledge to share.