New director of Baldwin City chamber looks to apply smart growth lessons learned in California

photo by: Submitted photo

Mandy Latzen

The recently named executive director for the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce will have a small commute when she starts her duties next month, but that is nothing for a woman who now travels half a continent to her job.

Mandy Latzen currently splits time between Sacramento, Calif., where she works as the deputy director of the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resource Protection, and her home near Clinton Lake in rural Douglas County, where she moved two years ago to be closer to her Kansas roots. She is looking forward to ending her frequent-flyer lifestyle when she starts Feb. 17 as the third executive director of the Baldwin chamber.

“I’m a super commuter, traveling back and forth from Kansas,” she said Friday from California. “I’m tired of it. It’s not easy.”

As pleased as Latzen will be to end the two time zone commute, she said that was not why she snapped at the chance to apply for the chamber position.

“I was very attracted to the position,” she said. “I feel all the skill sets I developed in the last 28 years will be utilized in the job. I have a love for the region. I know Douglas County is currently in a growth period. I want to be a part of all that.”

In her current job, she lends her background in real estate to California’s effort to preserve agricultural land and promote smart growth, Latzen said. It’s an effort that involves such environmental concerns as the state’s frequent wildfires and the consequences of rising sea levels, she said.

Smart growth and preservation practices also will inform her efforts with the chamber, Latzen said.

“I think I can make some contribution to keeping the Baldwin City area so special,” she said. “It’s a jewel. Once you lost that small-town feel, it’s impossible to get it back.”

Baldwin City Chamber President Jeremy Rodrock said Latzen was selected from a list of about 30 applicants. He said her background set her apart and would help the chamber reach out to area farmers and others in the agricultural sector who have not traditionally joined the organization, he said.

Latzen, too, thinks the chamber and farmers have much to offer each other in such areas as smart growth, conservation and agricultural tourism.

“They are one of the biggest commodities in the whole region,” she said. “A lot of times in our communities, they don’t even look at themselves as important stakeholders.”

Two other Baldwin City assets are the arts and the city’s history, Latzen said. She will take over her duties in time to help plan for this year’s Baldwin City Sesquicentennial. The city was founded on Sept. 22, 1870.

Latzen succeeds Jeannette Blackmar, who left the chamber in November to become executive director for the Lumberyard Arts Center. Latzen has already started working with her predecessor on sesquicentennial plans, she said.

“I’ve been talking to Jeannette about some key points,” she said. “History is huge. We’re really highlighting that.”

When Latzen moved with her husband to their Douglas County home two years ago, it was a return to her heritage, which includes a great grandfather who ran for governor. She grew up in Topeka, attended the University of Kansas for a time, and her daughter graduated two years ago from KU, she said.

Latzen will start work in a few weeks in a new chamber office. The Baldwin City chamber office has moved from 720 High St. to the Kansas State Bank, 602 Ames St.