Chamber of Commerce Gives Report for 2023

Kristy Tallman

Lagea Mull, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce (COC) gave a report to the City Council at the meeting on Feb. 13 regarding the visitor center’s activities. COC’s report from August to December 2023 was to provide an update on the Chamber’s activities, events, visitor statistics, and financial status during that period as part of their new contract with the city.

Mull explained to council members, “Since our new contract that went into play, we’re going to do this report from August to December of 2023. And then next year, we will do an annual report.”

Since the new contract the Chamber has formed their board of directors. Mull wished to introduce each member to the council. The members are:

President: Christy Duncan (Samaritan Health Foundation)

Vice President: Shelly Larsen

Secretary Treasurer: Kevin Van Cleave (Cascade Timber)

Eirka Baham (Be Accountable and The Rio Theatre)

Michael Hall (The Point Restaurant)

Karla Hogan (HomeSmart Realty)

Travis Luttmer (Country Financial)

Wendi Melcher (Cadwell Realty Group)

Vance Monroe (Radiator Supply)

“We have a nice full board of nine. That’s a good number for us. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to jump ship from the city and go work for the Chamber of Commerce is because I knew that they were in a better place,” said Mull.

Mull stated further, “Because we get the stipend to cover the visitor center. This is some of the breakdowns differentiating the majority of visits that came through in the season because it’s not the heavy tourist season, right. But we did have people from California, different towns in Oregon and these are we’ve had multiple visits from people in Corvallis and Eugene, but Centralia, Washington, Olympia, somebody from Mexico.”

The majority of visits during this slower tourist season were still from out of town and there were over 260 walk-in visitors to the Chamber office during this period. Mull reported that most of the phone inquiries were business related, but also included questions about notaries, Airbnbs, the Parade of Lights, the gingerbread competition, and more.

An interesting anecdote was someone asking for recommendations using ChatGPT, which suggested Sweet Home as a nearby day trip destination from Eugene.

“One of the things that was super interesting to me,” said Mull, “is I don’t know how many of you are familiar with ChatGPT AI, where you can have it write different, you know, maybe emails to people or whatever articles for newsletters that might happen in my office. But I got a phone call from a woman who was asking about where to visit in Sweet Home. And she said she was from Eugene, but you could tell she wasn’t really from Eugene. She was really from California, but she was smart. She said that this was the unique part, as she had asked Chat, where to go for a day trip. And ChatGPT actually told her to go to Sweet Home Oregon, as a place to go within a short distance for a day trip. And I think that’s pretty fun. So we might hear some bad things about AI. But hey, that’s, that’s a win right there for me.”

Mull said “rockhounding and pickleball were common visitor inquiries and there was a lot of interest in the Chamber’s tables and chairs rentals which were provided by a grant from the Sweet Home Community Foundation.”

“Our biggest thing this last time, you might not think that it’s a tourist thing. It is a tourist thing for Christmas activities. We have so many activities that happen at Christmas time. And I compile them, they are not even activities just for Chamber members. If it’s an activity that’s happening at the Christmas season, I put it in this massive list. And it had a reach of over 13,000 people for social media and considering our followers only 4000, that’s pretty good reach,” she stated, adding they also had sent out tourist packets to Arizona and New Jersey.

According to the report, the Chamber said finances are looking better, with normal income higher than normal expenses in 2023 for the first time since 2017. It was also the highest income since 2017.

Moving forward into 2024 several community-wide events are set to take place. Last summer’s successful community-wide yard sales will continue, along with festivities for Sportsman’s Holiday, including guided tours and the holiday parade.

Additionally, Mull told council members that efforts will be made to promote other activities such as craft fairs, arts events, and the Loggers Olympics. In town, the annual Parade of Lights will be a highlight, alongside discussions to take over the gingerbread competition to ensure its continuation.

Plans for 2025 are already underway, with ongoing collaboration between stakeholders, including regular meetings with City Manager Kelsey Young to explore partnership opportunities.

Mayor Susan Coleman thanked Mull for her thorough report commenting “Thank you for this thorough report is really helpful to see how the money that the city invests into the chamber is being utilized, especially for the visitor center, but also the success you are seeing at the chamber.”