Editorial: Pleasant banquet a good sign for chamber

It’s been a long and, at times, tumultuous year for the Chamber of Commerce.

Saturday, though, as 200-plus people filled a good portion of the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium at the Community Center, we definitely had a sense that things are moving forward, on the right track.

Last fall we reported that the chamber leadership was fractured, with three brand new board members abruptly resigning. Chamber officials told us the books were a mess and they were on the outs with the IRS and the state.

It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Katrina Crabtree, who by her own admission brought a resume heavy in bookkeeping to the table, found herself leading the organization as the new executive director not long after the tables were packed up following last year’s awards banquet. She acknowledged that she was trying to figure things out in a hurry and, frankly, she was also forced to develop a lot of new skills on the fly. In general, chamber directors tend to come from a sales/fund-raising/management/public relations-type background, which was quite different from her previous experience.

Saturday, though, Crabtree and a small cadre of volunteers – high school Key Club members, the Sportsman’s Holiday Court, and assorted others set up the gym and it was showtime.

Overall, in our judgment, it was a good night, and that’s a testament to Crabtree’s dogged determination to getting the Chamber of Commerce back where it needs to be. There are others involved, of course, mostly dedicated board members, including Crabtree’s mom, Arlene Paschen (whose name is pronounced the way she pursues her interests: with Passion).

The banquet provided an opportunity for the community to honor people who deserve recognition for their extensive efforts on behalf of all of us. In an age in which we’re mostly preoccupied with ourselves and our needs and wants, this is important for all of us.

We learned more about our community and the people who make it tick, which is one of the big benefits of holding the event for 72 years. There are some genuinely amazing people in Sweet Home, often operating well below the radar.

It was gratifying to see many former award-winners there to recognize others who are similarly deserving.

In our busy lives, the chamber banquet can be one of those events that we attend because we kind of feel obliged to – but which we often leave realizing that we’re kind of glad we showed up.

Other than the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation’s Christmas Tree Auction, there are not many events in Sweet Home, other than church services and sports, in which people from many walks of life come together in community.

Meanwhile, at the chamber, Crabtree and the board move on.

Crabtree has almost singlehandedly, revived and republished the Sweet Home Visitors Guide, which was last produced several years ago under the direction of then-SHEDG Economic Development Director Brian Hoffman and his staff. Crabtree decided to include a business directory to help fund it and to give local businesses more exposure to visitors and residents.

It’s working. The directory is scheduled to print by the end of the month, well in advance of tourist season, and it will highlight a lot of local attractions for people rolling into town – or already living here.

She’s made the chamber attractive to visitors by using a lot of the empty space in the building, located across the street from Safeway, to sell local artisans’ wares.

Now, she’s told us, a big goal is to get more businesses represented on the chamber board, which remains largely made up of retirees and individual citizens who just care about the community and want to make it better.

What’s wrong with that is the entities who should be most concerned about economic progress here – large employers in particular, aren’t putting their people forward for consideration. Speaking practically, businesses or organizations with larger staffs should more easily be able to donate the time and business and organizational acumen it takes for effective board participation than can a mom-and-pop outfit.

There may be good news, as Crabtree says she’s had contact with some businesses that have indicated interest. For the chamber to grow at the board level, that’s critical.

The revolving door of directors and board members at the chamber that’s been a rule of thumb in recent years has made things difficult. An organization that should be a leader in our community has been fighting for its own survival.

Sure, there are challenges. We lack the strong local business community that Sweet Home used to have.

We’re a small, fairly insular community, and especially with the challenges our community is dealing with, economic and otherwise, it’s easy to get frustrated and throw in the towel.

But that is not the path to progress and if Sweet Home residents and business owners want to see progress, we are going to have to contribute to the process.

It starts with us.