LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The La Crosse Chamber of Commerce is looking to add more businesses to its first friend program. For a fee, the program helps local businesses connect with the community through programs and events.

The program began in 2019 and it was the first of its kind in the state. La Crosse Chamber Workforce Strategies Director, Beth Franklin, says, “We built the first friend Newcomer Connection Program as a response to area employers coming to us with workforce challenges, particularly in the realms of workforce, our talent attraction and talent retention. We worked with some of our major employers to create a program and build some services to help their job candidates in new hires, especially those who are relocating from outside the area, who have no familiarity with the Coulee Region.”

Some of the businesses involved include Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic Health System, Kwik Trip, and Trane Technologies. Franklin adds, “We’ve had about 26 employers use the program and the program’s really grown by word of mouth over the last five years. And we’re ready to celebrate that our investors believe in the program and have helped put us in a position where we’ve been able to expand to serve more companies.”

Gundersen Health System Director for Talent and Recruitment Strategy, Chet Doering, says the program helps build a relationship between organizations and people who are new to the area, “The first run program looks to kind of bridge newcomers and make them feel like they’re neighbors. To me, that’s such a special aspect of it. We understand that for individuals to want to, you know, work and play here, they really need to see a comprehensive view of community.”

Franklin says there is still more to be done with the project, “We want to serve all different types of employers. Right now, we primarily serve large employers, but more and more smaller employers are starting to use the program. This program works for our large employers who bring in numerous company or numerous individuals from outside the area. But it also works for smaller companies who only bring in one or two individuals to work for them from outside the area.”

The Chamber will host informational sessions for business professionals to learn about how their company can utilize the First Friend Program. For information on those sessions and prices to join, you can visit the La Crosse Chamber’s Website.