New chamber president brings extensive business background to table

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce has several new board members as of this month and Bill Matthews has begun a term as president of the organization this month.

“We’ve had some reorganiza-tion in the election of officers and some additions and subtractions of board members,” Matthews said.

Officially joining the board this month following elections in November are Ian Rollins, marketing and public relations coordinator at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital; John Escalera, manager at Safeway; and Brian Adams of Safeway.

The board appointed Karla Hogan of Keller Williams Sherri Gregory Home Team to fill a vacancy during its regular meeting on Jan. 18. The vacancy was created when Kim Palmer resigned after many years, due to other commitments on her time.

Continuing as members of the board are Past President Arlene Paschen, Bill Baitinger and Dave Jurney, all retired residents of Sweet Home, and Joe Graybill, senior engineering technician with the City of Sweet Home.

“The bylaws allow for additional members as necessary,” said Matthews, who has opened an insurance agency in town. “As we move along, we’ll be looking to add board members as seems appropriate.

“We’re involved in a lot of things, and we’ll continue to be involved in things, from the health fair to other community events. As some of the work falls to committees, we’ll need strong board members to help conduct the business of the chamber.”

Matthews grew up in Southern California. He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1967 with a degree in political science. After college, he joined the management trainee program at Sears. After 10 years at Sears, he became involved in the home improvement business.

Today, he is a HealthMarkets insurance agent offering medical insurance, life insurance and other products. The agency doesn’t provide property, casualty or auto insurance. He opened an office at 1228 Main St. last year.

“I was working from my house, but if I wanted to be part of this community, I needed to put down a stake,” Matthews said.

Matthews moved to Sweet Home with his wife, Pat, 2½ years ago from the Seattle, Wash. area, where he had been a business consultant in the building materials industry.

They wanted to move near their grandchildren, Matthews said. Their son, Dan Matthews, is a forest road engineer with the Sweet Home Ranger District, and Matthews has two grandchildren in Sweet Home.

The decision came down to Sweet Home or Sacramento, Calif., where he has two other grandchildren, Matthews said. Pat Matthews received a job offer as speech therapist at Cascades Elementary School in Lebanon.

“So we decided that we would buy a home here in Sweet Home,” Bill Matthews said. For the first year they were here, Matthews worked as a consultant to Palm Harbor off and on. He didn’t get involved in the Sweet Home community, but he “kind of watched.”

His first exposure to the chamber was the “very ugly article” that followed events at the chamber in 2015 when The New Era reported about the resignations of three board members and that the IRS had revoked the chamber’s tax-exempt status.

Matthews said he previously had experience with city government in Prescott, Ariz. He was president of the contractors association. He also served with the chamber of commerce there, and he was involved in various advisory roles on a county and city level. He was involved in Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity.

He was general manager of a large lumber and building operation in Prescott, which he described as the dominant business in the county.

In Sweet Home, “I joined the chamber because I wanted to make a difference in the community,” Matthews said. He also started attending City Council and Planning Commission meetings and reading the newspapers.

“That’s my focus today,” he said. “I believe in the mission of the chamber.”

That mission is to promote business, enhance economic and community development and to serve as a catalyst for improving the overall quality of life in the community.

“How can it get any better than that?” Matthews asked. “I subscribe to that. The chamber is an ideal vehicle for helping the other entities in the city to initiate positive change.”

Matthews stepped forward when Paschen decided she wanted to move on.

Working in Prescott, his goal was growth and improvement, not maintenance, Matthews said. “I’m about making a difference, and I’m a change agent. I’m still the same person, although I’m much older.”

“With the chamber, as a board, we see that we have the opportunity to make significant change in our community, and we intend to do so,” Matthews said, noting that a partnership between the city and Samaritan Health, the chamber has helped make “something really great happen” as it got involved with the production of last summer’s health fair, which drew a large crowd of local residents.

In the longer term, the chamber is committed to attracting new businesses, improving the downtown area and Main Street and filling up the empty buildings.

“One of the most important things we can do is we advocate,” Matthews said. Executive Director Katrina Crabtree and Matthews are involved in various groups, such as the Kiwanis Club and the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort (SHARE), and attend City Council meetings to represent business interests in the community.

“We will advocate for those causes that impact the businesses of this community and, therefore, the health of the community,” Matthews said. “We have good people that are currently here, other business people that have expressed interest in our mission and doing something – and many somethings.”

Matthews said he is talking with business people, the council and other community leaders, and they’re telling him they’ll enthusiastically support a chamber that’s active in the community, working with partners and advocating economic development.

People are willing to commit resources, in capital and in people, to make changes, he said, and they’ll participate.

The chamber board has held a retreat already this year, and in the next couple of months, the chamber will develop a strategic business plan, Matthews said. It will map out in detail the chamber’s vision, mission and goals.

As a business consultant, the first thing he asks is to see the business plan for the organization, he said. He has a great deal of experience with business planning, and other organizations serving on the board, like Samaritan and Safeway, do too.

“Most successful businesses have a business plan, and we want to be a successful organization,” Matthews said. “Most successful chambers that I’ve researched have a business plan.”

With a plan and partnerships in place, he added, “I’m fairly confident that the chamber can be a catalyst.”