MICHAEL DUNNE ON BUSINESS
While Phoenix, Oregon is a two-and-a-half-hour drive south, there is a Phoenix of sorts located in downtown Creswell that deserves its own story.
The Creswell Chamber of Commerce has recently risen from the hardship of COVID to re-open and re-launch efforts to support local businesses and host signature events for the city and its people. To tell the story of how the Chamber has come back from closure is really to tell the story of local businesspeople who simply refused to let the institution die.
And in a small way, this paper helped kickstart the effort.
“When an article first appeared in The Chronicle about the Chamber’s imminent closure, several of us got together to strategize,” said Cassie Stoner, a new board member of the Creswell Chamber. Stoner is also a local business professional who works at the Eugene Chamber of Commerce as its director of membership. “We knew the intrinsic value that a chamber can provide, so six of us decided to volunteer our time to form a new board and relaunch.”
Going back to 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic, the Creswell Chamber—with only one part-time staffer—was already severely limited in what it could accomplish. Once membership dues and other revenue began to dry up in the severe economic downturn that followed, the Chamber had few options but to close its doors.
One of those first volunteers was Bobby Ladley, a relative newcomer to Creswell. “I saw stories in The Chronicle about the Chamber closing and thought I would try and help out anyway I could,” he said. “I’ve never been on a chamber board, but I know enough about working with people and making plans.”
Once the group began meeting, a first order of business was to decide who would be the board leader. Ladley told me that when the group started addressing the need for someone to step up and become president, the room got quiet as perhaps the weight of leading an organization that would have to work hard to reestablish trust in the community descended on the group. “After a few minutes of silence, I just raised my hand and said I would do it. I knew it would be challenging, but I also thought that a group of dedicated people can really accomplish a tremendous amount of good.”
And so, in the spring of 2021, a new slate of board members emerged, and the Chamber re-opened its doors on Oregon Avenue in the fall.
Their action plan included re-opening the office with limited hours, reaching out to local businesses introducing (or reintroducing) the Chamber, updating the website, soliciting feedback from members and the community, and exploring education and work training efforts.
“Really, our main goal for the next year is to re-earn trust and right the ship,” Ladley continued. “We own it now, and we own whatever happened before. So, we’ve been focused on having conversations with business owners and letting them know that we are here for them.”
For the board, one of the most important ways to earn back trust was to offer free membership to businesses. “We made the choice to not charge any dues last year to help repair relationships with the business community who saw its chamber close its doors,” said Ladley. “We really felt like it was important to first earn the right to charge membership dues.”
Fortunately, some early returns suggest the business community is glad to have the Chamber open again.
“I am very excited that the Creswell Chamber of Commerce is back in operation!” said Jeannie Marr, CEO of Creswell’s Health Mart. “We find what the Chamber has to offer is very valuable, and I encourage all our Creswell and surrounding area businesses to join and get involved. It will be well worth it.”
After the relaunch, the board now has several months of rebuilding under its belt, and they are ready to ramp up their efforts.
“We believe that the value of the Chamber is to help the entire community thrive,” said Stoner. “We are a resource for business owners and an advocate for their interests locally and statewide. Our goal is to amplify their voices, but further, we are excited to bring the community together at upcoming events and to support our local business development.”
Speaking of events, the Chamber is already gearing up to return, restore, and enhance many of the events that make Creswell the special place that it is.
As a reminder, the Creswell Chamber hosts several annual events to bring both businesses and residents together to promote tourism and economic vibrancy. These events include the Mother’s Day weekend community-wide garage sale, the 4th of July celebration, and the Winter Lights event to celebrate the holidays.
According to Ladley, just the fact that the new board launched a committee to take on these events was a great first step toward announcing that the Chamber is back.
“We think the Winter Lights was a nice success recently, and we are really excited about how the Mother’s Day and the 4th of July events are shaping up,” he said.
So as the world and Creswell move past the worst of the pandemic, the Chamber that refused to die is hoping to continue to rise and raise the bar for business advocacy.
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