Chamber building success one business at a time
When business people need a helping hand or advice from peers, where do they turn?
Most usually turn to the local chamber of commerce. The West Linn Chamber of Commerce is working hard to build a supportive business environment in the city. Led by the few business people making up its board of directors, the chamber is dedicated to rebuilding the program offerings and providing services that will help members of all industries succeed.
The Great Recession of 2008 caused chamber membership to drop dramatically, as businesses clamored to keep afloat.
"The chamber felt that hard," said Molly Macom, owner of Westlake Properties and vice president of the chamber. "It was tough."
At a retreat held earlier this year, the board set goals for 2017 and are fired up to provide exceptional value to members. The board, led by Michael LoGuidice, owner and chiropractor at Linn City Chiropractic, consists of Macom; Janice McGuire, community relations manager at Mary's Woods; Kris Ryan of PacificWest Bank serves as secretary/treasurer; and Russell Williams of Russell Williams State Farm Insurance serves as ambassador and liaison with the City of West Linn. Melinda Doblie is the office and communications coordinator.
The board recognizes the business community faces some unique challenges. West Linn has many home-based businesses, and due to the geography of the town, has no true business district.
"West Linn businesses struggle. It's easy to drive to other cities to do business," LoGuidice said. The group recognizes that all businesses need networking opportunities, especially home-based businesses.
"All businesses need to network," Macom said. "You get stale. You need to get out into the community, and the chamber offers that support."
Growing the chamber's membership is the top goal for 2017.
Doblie cited information from a Schapiro Group report in 2012 that showed 49 percent of consumers were more likely to think favorably of a local business if it was a member of a local chamber, and 80 percent more likely to purchase a product or service from a chamber member.
She said chamber membership shows consumers the business is involved in the community; that it cares about customers, that the business has a good reputation and uses good business practices.
"For some of our members, this is enough," Doblie says. "They feel that the designation is value enough and worth the membership. However, we want to do more for our members."
The board considers hiring Doblie as the top success of 2016. Even on her part-time schedule, she is a huge asset to the organization. She is the first face of the chamber, and she spends a great deal of time building rapport and engaging members.
"We struggle with my title because I am doing a lot more than running the office," she said. "Since I routinely speak on the board's behalf, do marketing and plan events, we threw the 'communications' thing into my title. I'm a jack-of-all-trades right now.
"Member engagement has been very important over the last few months. We spend a lot of time talking to our members, building rapport face-to-face, building and repairing relationships and surveys at the end of 2016."
One tool they are using to give extra value to members is the semi-monthly Lunch and Learn sessions. Members gather at Round Table Pizza for a no-host lunch and to hear a presentation on a topic of interest. Presenters are chamber members, another benefit of membership.
The chamber hosts quarterly general membership and networking sessions.
One of Doblie's duties is to prepare the emailed newsletter, which McGuire enjoys reading and sharing with Mary's Woods residents.
"I really appreciate the networking and newsletters," she said.
She said people come to Mary's Woods events after they learn about them through the newsletter, another benefit of membership.
Through a collaboration with West Linn-Wilsonville School District's Youth Transition Program, last year the chamber brought on intern Carson Steinbrenner to gain valuable business experience before heading to college. They hope to repeat that experience this spring.
A "passion project" the board instigated last year was Warm Up West Linn, in which they supplied all the elementary schools in West Linn with hooded sweatshirts, which students could borrow if they happened to forget their jackets.
"You know how often that can happen," Macom said. "We got a community grant to fund this program, and we hope to do it again.
"We have huge plans of what we'd like to do, but have narrowed it down so we can complete it. We need more volunteers and directors to get more things done."
Currently, the chamber offers these committees: networking, ambassador, membership, programs, fundraising, community involvement, economic development, government affairs, website, events and directory.
The chamber will succeed as it helps members engage and energize in its activities and programs, all of which benefit their businesses.
"Value is only value if our members see it as such and use the benefits," Doblie said. "Understanding what members want helps to bring those offerings to the table. We heard a few things from our members: more networking opportunities, better communication, more value added. You get out of it what you put into it."
General membership dues are $200 annually.
The West Linn Chamber of Commerce office is located on the lower level of Westlake Properties, 21420 Willamette Drive in West Linn. The phone number is 503-655-6744.
The website is being updated.