by Justin Aufdermauer
Imagine for a moment the community without the Chamber. This was not far from reality a decade ago, when we were months from the Chamber becoming a completely volunteer-run organization or not existing at all. The budget was unsustainable, our membership roster was short and frankly, at that point in time, the Chamber was a visitor information center that hosted three small community events. Somewhere along the way, the Chamber had lost its way.
Fast forward 10 years, and you’ll find that the Chamber has made a concerted move to embrace its unique role of building a strong community where businesses can thrive (not so coincidentally, that is our current mission statement.) Between board leadership and staff vision, it seems that we have turned things around for the better.
Today, the Chamber boasts the largest membership in our history, with members as far north as Manzanita and as far south as Pacific City. We have two full-time, two part-time and two seasonal staff to run our programs, a board of seven directors that governs the organization and five strategic teams dedicated to one of five focus areas.
Our Leadership Team is the guiding force for the Chamber. This team focuses on internal operations and practices to make sure the Chamber is staying relevant, innovative and adaptive. The “jobs” that fall under this team include but are not limited to managing service contracts; strategic planning and aligning the Chamber’s mission with the needs of the community; and creating a positive workplace culture that can be a model for other organizations.
Our Business Growth Team focuses on exactly what its name suggests: supporting businesses as they grow both operationally and financially. More specifically, this team promotes businesses, shares business development opportunities with local businesses, advises business owners, promotes tourism and assists businesses as they apply for grants. Workforce, and lack thereof, has become a major focus of this team recently, and it is contently at the front of our minds.
Our Community Engagement Team plays the role of event host and quality of life improver. This team draws in and retains entrepreneurs and workforce members by making Tillamook and the greater county a great place to live, work and play. This is where events like June Dairy Parade, Cork & Brew Tour, Treats + Sweets, monthly Sip + Shop and the Tillamook Farmers Market come into play. Each one enhances the overall quality of life locally. This team also oversees the beautiful Downtown Planter Program and the production of the Tillamook Living Magazine, a community profile and relocation guide.
Our Connections Team aims to broker connections for our members to customers, other businesses and partner organizations. Even in the age of Google, direct referrals are still a core function of the Chamber. In fact, every day we field dozens of calls and in-person visits from people asking for referrals. The Connections Team also holds monthly Mornings on Main Street meetings for both business and community members to attend and network with each other, as well as membership events, such as the What’s Brewin’ social evening and the Annual Chamber Banquet.
Our Collaborative Advocacy Team is our newest team, and it’s where the Chamber steps into the political realm. This team provides information, opportunities and a voice for initiatives relevant to creating a healthy local economy for our businesses. I always get a kick out of it when people say, “That’s not the Chamber’s job,” because it quite literally is why chambers were created. Also, our membership surveys show that policy engagement and candidate endorsements are a high priority of our members. Our advocacy efforts often focus on land use issues, local codes, downtown safety and beautification and ballot initiatives that benefit local businesses. Housing has also been a major focus area the past couple of years, and we see it remaining so for the foreseeable future.
The Chamber is a unique organization because we have many roles, and people view us in many ways. Some people see us as a visitor information center and tourism promotion organization, while some people view us as the group who puts on community events. Some people think we are the group that only helps businesses, and some view us as a political advocate. Some say we are friend, and some say we are foe.
The thing is, every one of those people is right. The Chamber of today is all of those things. We embrace our varied roles in this community, and we continue to look to the future for ways to keep building a strong community where businesses can thrive.
We’re not the Chamber we were 10 years ago. And that’s a good thing.