Wendy Birdsall’s “Mr. Fix It” father and artist mother set the tone for an accomplished
30-year career at the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, marked by transformative community
projects and initiatives to spur entrepreneurship, and talent attraction and retention.
“‘No’ was just the beginning of the conversation,” said Birdsall, who is retiring Dec. 31 after
15 years as Chamber president. “I was always looking for a way to make things happen.”

A nod to a lifetime of ingenuity, Birdsall recalled how she put newly gifted ice skates to good use as a child.

“I had read that you could create an ice-skating rink in your backyard if you just had a hose and water,” she recalled. “We did skate on it a few times and had a ton of fun.”

Birdsall has powered innovation and projects of a far different scale in recent years; the
passage of the bond to financially support Pinnacle Bank Arena by Lincoln voters was
characterized as “the biggest difference-maker in Lincoln’s growth and the way that we
look at ourselves.”

She indicated the arena was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Building out the whole Haymarket area was a grand slam,” Birdsall said. “We made it more
than just an arena or a place to go to an event. We made it a place where people people can stay and linger.”

When asked about notable accomplishments during her tenure, Birdsall highlighted the
creation of the Lincoln Young Professionals Group. Today, the 2,000-plus-member YPG is
among one of the biggest groups of its kind in the country. She also isolated its partnership
with Southeast Community College (SCC) to create the Career Academy, which is “now
just hitting its prime,” and the JumpStart Challenge was described as a “reverse pitch
competition that asks industry to bring a problem forward, and a solution can be created
through technology.”

Last but not least, Birdsall led the creation of LaunchLNK, funding and mentorship
program for budding businesses and concepts.

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Birdsall is quick to credit the team that surrounds her.

“I got to choose my team,” she said. “It makes such a difference when you can hit on all
cylinders with an extremely competent team that has the same vision.

“Our staff are given the ability to innovate, to be in charge of their destination, and to be free thinkers,” Birdsall continued, “and you get so much more from the folks that you work with when they’re having fun doing it.”

Birdsall entered the Chamber world in much the same way as others, rather serendipitously.

With visions of owning a restaurant, Birdsall’s degree in food science was applied as a dietician at Bryan Health for nine years. From there, she traveled the state as a pharmaceuticals rep.

“But it wasn’t a job that I enjoyed,” she said, indicating the position didn’t complement
her extroversion.

Fortuitously, the chamber was creating a program to promote Lincoln as a regional medical
center to smaller communities, who would then serve as referral sources for the capital city’s specialty facilities.

“I love my community and wanted to do something to advance and grow it,” she said.
Birdsall would go on to step into roles, including Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau
executive director and VP, before being named president of the Chamber in 2006. Jason Ball is stepping in to Birdsall’s shoes as chamber and LPED president in the new year.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Birdsall said, adding that Ball is a “boomerang” professional
and former employee. “When you leave a job and have invested so much time, blood, sweat and tears into it, you want it to be OK. I have such respect and trust in Jason and his vision for Lincoln.”

Birdsall looks forward to having the freedom to travel in a big way. A trip to Palm Springs in
February and a 54-hour drive to Alaska are on the horizon.

“The other thing that I love to do is to buy and sell antiques,” she said, noting the skill was
honed as a traveling pharma rep. “I would find things that were unique. One thing I really
exploited was metal lunch boxes. I got connected with two different people that bought every lunch box.”

She looks forward to developing a new, successful niche. And she encourages future leaders and community movers-and-shakers to “take risks. Don’t be afraid of taking something on that feels uncomfortable. Yeah, you might fail but failure is where you learn.”
“I think it’s so important that people take responsibility and get involved in their community.”