By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Mary Hinkelman – who has made Bowling Green her business – will soon take on a broader workload. She is going from being a cheerleader and advocate for downtown businesses to meeting the needs of 450 businesses in the entire Bowling Green community.
Hinkelman has been named the new executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, a position held by Earlene Kilpatrick for the last decade.
She relishes the challenge.
“You never tell me that I can’t do something,” Hinkelman said with a smile.
The common denominator with her old job and new position is the focus on local businesses.
“Doing things with the businesses is the favorite part of my job,” she said.
Hinkelman admits she won’t miss the 6 a.m. phone calls from the downtown groundskeepers, or cleaning the streets on some Saturday mornings.
But she is looking forward to continuing working side-by-side with businesses. As Downtown BG director, she represented about 175 businesses in the downtown area – everything from retail and restaurants, to law offices, medical services, and non-profits.
As chamber director, Hinkelman will be spreading her skills to the entire business community. She knows the job will be a challenge.
“I know that the way people do business is very different than 10 or 15 years ago,” she said. “Are we still meeting the needs of the chamber?”
Hinkelman would like to focus on the creation of a business incubator space in the city to help entrepreneurs get started.
“This is still in its infancy,” she said. “It would be a place for someone to launch a product and see what the interest would be.”
The chamber of commerce announced Hinkelman’s hiring Friday morning. She was one of 65 applicants for the position. “It was very humbling,” she said.
Hinkelman is proud of her two-plus years as downtown director.
“I saw there was a difference being made,” she said.
During her tenure, the downtown initiated a Chocolate Crawl. “That was wonderful,” she said. The Downtown Farmers Market has expanded and is expected to have more than 100 vendors next year. A winter market is being started, which is “super exciting.” The Art Walk was revived with the addition of the “one-bite competition.” “The numbers were dwindling, but people love food,” she said. And the summer Firefly Nights were so successful the event is continuing into the fall.
The downtown is also working with some BGSU architecture students on making the “dog-leg alley” by Finders, on North Main Street, a usable space. With the addition of some outdoor seating, Hinkelman hopes to see an area for pop-up artists.
Hinkelman believes the new creative ideas for the downtown are encouraging others to get involved.
“When you see a good thing, everybody wants to get in on it,” she said.
In her new role as chamber director, Hinkelman plans to continue attending City Council meetings.
“I’m excited. I’ll still be working closely with the city. I love that process,” she said.
And she sees opportunities to build on the chamber’s success.
“It’s an amazing community. There is always something going on,” Hinkelman said. “We are still continuing to grow. There’s a lot of investment in the community. This is a great place to live.”
Hinkelman takes over her new position on Sept. 24. Kilpatrick officially retires on Oct. 1.