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Chamber looks for new direction

Without a director, board decides how to manage advocacy groups affairs


The Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce is at a crossroads in terms of direction.

After some growing pains over the past three years as well as the change in some of its programs and the resignation of two executive directors within five months, the chamber is deciding how to proceed.

New direction?

Last weekend’s chamber retreat provided a lot of unity and direction for the nonprofit organization, according to summary notes submitted to The Post by Board Secretary Julia Monteith.

“As the board discussed the chamber’s mission of supporting business to promote our thriving community,” she wrote, “the enthusiasm in the room was powerful.”

Monteith states the chamber will not be hiring another executive director to replace Mitch Speck, who recently was asked to resign.

Instead, the chamber will hire an interim specialist who will “focus more on membership development and resource acquisition,” Monteith stated.

By January, Monteith said, the board will begin to “pursue filling the position (of director).”

In the meantime, the chamber will accomplish its goals by using a network of committees to, as Monteith said, “enhance membership networking, advocacy and education opportunities.”

Eight of the 11 board members will act as chairpersons for the committees, which include marketing, ambassadors, economic development, government affairs, career education, budget, board development and a committee for events and fundraising.

Monteith suggested that chamber members could call the office (503-668-4006) to find a committee that could use their special skills to assist the organization.

What does the chamber do?

The chamber plays several roles in a city, according to the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce. Its objectives are to have a chamber involved in governmental affairs, economic development grassroots networking, education and a role in developing public policy.

The Sandy chamber follows those objectives, although only a small portion of its work is very visible to the community.

Because it is an integral part of a healthy business climate, economic development has always been a role for the chamber.

The city of Sandy’s director of economic development, David Snider, said he has been working closely with the chamber to encourage business development in the city.

From his perspective on city staff, Snider said, the chamber represents the business community when anything the city does might have an effect on them, such as recent changes to zoning in commercial and industrial areas of the city.

But more closely related to Snider’s role in the city, the chamber is involved in promoting the economic development of Sandy.

“It certainly makes sense for a chamber of commerce and an economic development department of a city to work together,” Snider said. “We have a lot of the same common goals.”

Those goals include creating a vibrant economy by making a business community attractive to out-of-town businesses or local businesses looking to expand.

“Mitch (Speck) started working on getting a business to move from Gresham,” Snider said, “and he brought it to my attention. We both worked on it for a while (before he was asked to resign from the chamber). We had a conference call with that (bakery) business.”

Former chamber director Hollis MacLean-Wenzel says the chamber is out front with its networking opportunities as well as its fundraisers, but it does many other things behind the scenes.

MacLean-Wenzel agrees with Snider that the chamber is very involved in economic development issues such as recruiting new businesses and supporting Sandy Main Street activities.

Even though the chamber staff is small, MacLean-Wenzel says it must provide for the education of its 250 members through workshops and connecting them with area business schools.

Also on the chamber’s plate is advocating for businesses, advising potential entrepreneurs and connecting with regional support organizations.

“The chamber is a conduit between its members and city, county and state government,” she said. “We have to reach out to county government (for example) because they often forget we’re out here. You have to go knock on their doors.”

Board member and chamber treasurer Jerry Knowlton says there are a lot of small ways the chamber supports its members, including networking, education, fundraising, Internet communication, creating scholarships for high school students, directing travelers to local sites, art and local culture promotion, having a presence at city government meetings and being a resource for businesses who need help.

“If we (the chamber) have a function or vision,” Knowlton said, “it’s to support and promote and advocate and be a resource for the Sandy area business community — not just downtown, not just the orchards, not just the nurseries.”

One of the ways the chamber has advocated for businesses was through its work with the city’s façade improvement program and the development of Sandy Main Street programs.

“Sandy looks a lot different (better) than it did four years ago,” MacLean-Wenzel said. “The chamber was a strong part of that.”

The chamber’s visitor center, she said, is self-funded, but it promotes the sale of local products and art as well as the city of Sandy.

What could the chamber do?

Snider says the chamber should be representing businesses when any city regulation might affect them.

He said he worked with

MacLean-Wenzel before she was forced to resign for health reasons, as well as with Speck.

“It’s all about developing relationships,” he said. “(Speck) and I sat together on several different committees. It’s mainly about maintaining relationships, sharing information and building communication between organizations.”

MacLean-Wenzel believes the chamber should reach out more to new businesses to help them succeed. A chamber program called ambassadors used to do that, and it seems — according to the list of 2013 committees — the chamber could be reviving that practice.

“That is an area that is continually challenging,” said MacLean-Wenzel, “because the organization is volunteer driven.”

Knowlton seems to agree with MacLean-Wenzel on helping new members. He says the chamber could do a better job of helping members with whatever they need or want. Key in that process is contact and communication.

MacLean-Wenzel agrees with Knowlton, saying the chamber could improve its information delivery, telling its members what it is doing that is not very visible.

Education, she said, also is the responsibility of the chamber, especially helping new businesses with a business plan and marketing.

MacLean-Wenzel says Sandy’s new look and the fact it is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state are in its favor.

“We have all these (advantages) converging,” she said, “and that creates amazing opportunities for people. We are far more than a gateway to Mount Hood. Who wouldn’t want to live here?”