Chamber reorganizing, emphasizing services

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce, which has been in the process of re-organizing after experiencing a serious financial shortfall that forced it to let its executive director go, is focusing on membership and emphasizing the services it offers to its members.

“We’re really focusing on getting out there and talking to the business community about the things we offer,” said Brandi Hawkins, owner of Periwinkle Provisions, who succeeded Lerena Ruby as president last month. The chamber is improving its service in several ways, she said. Among them, it is offering quarterly business improvement seminars with the Sweet Home Economic Development Group.

In addition to setting “appropriate guidelines and procedures” for financial management, the chamber board’s priority is to rebuild membership, she said. With the economy where it is today, some people have undervalued the chamber.

But the chamber is an integral part of the business community, Hawkins said. It helps provide publicity and advertising. Members are listed in the chamber visitors guide and on its website.

Chamber members also receive benefits from other groups in the community, Hawkins said. They receive a discount on advertising in The New Era, and they can qualify for a larger grant from the Commercial Exterior Improvement Program by the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort.

The chamber’s after-hours events have drawn consistent crowds over the last couple of years. Hawkins said the events are open to the public, and hosting one helps get word out about what a business does.

The quarterly seminars will start with a breakfast forum on Friday, Feb. 10, focusing on the SHARE Commercial Exterior Improvement Program. The seminars will generally be held over breakfast or lunch, she said.

In addition, the chamber offers a lot of small benefits, including photocopies for a nominal fee and free tables, chairs, flags and banners for events.

The chamber has been making changes to gain control of financial and organizational concerns it’s had for the past couple of years Hawkins said. A relatively new finance committee has been doing behind-the-scenes work for the past seven to eight months, and now any spending must be approved by the entire board. The chamber has implemented a comprehensive policy and procedures manual, with an entire section dedicated to finance and debt resolution.

At this time, the chamber is current on all financial obligations and on its way to paying off some lingering debt, she said in a letter to members. “Although this has taken a year or more to accomplish, the hard choices have realized the desired results.”

“We’re doing things very differently,” Hawkins said. Neither the chamber nor SHARE are focusing on events. Any events involving the chamber must be cost-neutral to the chamber now.

Both organizations are focusing on marketing in general, Hawkins said. The chamber won’t be organizing the Sportsman’s Holiday parade and Christmas parade any more. Rather, a group of volunteers put together the Christmas parade in just a couple of weeks, and it will work on the Sportsman’s Holiday Parade this year as well.

The chamber will assist in any way it can because it has been a chamber event, Hawkins said. Plus, it will still put on the annual awards banquet.

“We’re coming up on the banquet. It’s a time we set aside to honor the people who volunteer in Sweet Home,” she said.

That volunteerism is something she hasn’t seen in any of the numerous places she lived prior to moving to Sweet Home, Hawkins said.

The most important thing, Hawkins said about the chamber this year, is if anyone has any questions, ask a board member for answers.

The public is invited to chamber board meetings the third Thursday of each month at 9 a.m. at the Chamber office.

“I can’t reinforce enough that community involvement is key,” Hawkins said.

Anyone interested in joining the chamber or volunteering, contact the chamber Visitor’s Center and office at (541) 367-6186.