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The chamber of commerce in St. Helens held its first ever virtual annual members meeting

SUBMITTED PHOTO: SOUTH COLUMBIA COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - Visitors to St. Helens are welcomed at the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce in St. Helens.It took a Zoom meeting to do it, but members of the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce were able to "get together" for an update on the business group's activities this week.

Alex Tardif, recently named president of the Chamber's board of directors, addressed the online gathering at the 2021 Annual Members Meeting, which took place Tuesday, Feb. 9.

"2020 has been quite a wild ride for the chamber," Tardif said. "We've been rebuilding the board and rebuilding our strength as a team in the direction that we're headed."

The Chamber laid off staff last year after the coronavirus pandemic hit. It brought aboard Tardif as board president, putting a notable name in a leadership position, late last year. Tardif served one term as a Columbia County commissioner, losing re-election last year to Casey Garrett.

With the Chamber still recuperating from the economic blow dealt by the pandemic, Tardif is acting as treasurer as well. As an example of how it is rebuilding, Tardif noted that there are two openings on the board right now. The Chamber is actively recruiting for both positions, and there is a need for someone with a finance background.

The Chamber is also still seeking a new executive director. Because of the pandemic and its economic impact, the position has been vacant for nearly a year. Chrissy Marquardt was laid off in late March 2020 after just eight months on the job.

Tardif talked about how the Chamber has tried to reach out to businesses in the midst of the pandemic. One effort he described is the Chamber's "awareness campaign."

"We started doing these little Chamber cards so that if and when we are able to stop into a business, especially a Chamber business, we can let them know that we are visiting, that we are there and that we're helping to promote their business within our community," Tardif explained.

Tardif noted that the chamber moved to online coffee and commerce in order to keep networking intact.

"Even during the pandemic, we were able to host two ribbon cuttings in 2020," he said. "We're hoping that there will be a lot more in 2021."

The Chamber opened a holiday gift shop in December. Tardif said plans are actually to hold the gift shop quarterly to promote vendors and members of the community.

Reviewing other accomplishments, Tardif said, "We partnered with the Columbia County Economic Team on a business education series. We assisted in keeping local businesses up to date with the changes to business practices due to COVID via our newsletter. We've been working with local businesses and local service providers to offer more educational resources."

Tardif expressed the desire to build a stronger relationship with Vernonia, where the Chamber operates but has few members.

"We are the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, which serves St. Helens, Scappoose and Vernonia," Tardif pointed out.

Before wrapping up the annual members meeting, Tardif brought up the Chamber's financial status.

The Chamber's gross income was $45,773 last year, Tardif said. Its total expenses were $39,487, and the cost of goods was $1,381, for a net operating income of $4,904.

Noting that payroll is the Chamber's biggest expense, Tardif said, "We need to continue to grow our revenue streams and continue to look at how we diversify to be able to meet our membership needs without drastically increasing membership fees to cover them."

In desiring to receive input from members, Tardif said, "Our agency is set up in order to serve its members, and in order to serve you as members, we need to be hearing from you. We need your input. We need your feedback, and we need to know what direction we should be going as a Chamber, because we serve you."

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