The Creswell Chamber of Commerce office on Oregon Avenue has been closed since April 2020.
CRESWELL – The Creswell Chamber of Commerce has nearly shriveled into nonexistence and will disband if several board vacancies cannot be filled by the end of March, said chamber president Raina Napper, who is calling for volunteers to keep it alive.
The board must have at least seven board members to operate legally; right now the chamber has two – Elena Connelly and herself. If the Chamber disbands, the visitor center would permanently close, there would be no liaison between government and businesses, and events could disappear, Napper said.
“If this doesn’t come to fruition, there’s no future for the chamber,” Napper said. “It really depends on people wanting a chamber and volunteering.”
Chambers serve two distinct roles in cities: supporting local businesses and stimulating tourism. A chamber supports economic growth and business vitality, in part by hosting ribbon-cutting ceremonies and regular networking events. On the tourism front, the Creswell Chamber hosts events that generate some of its revenue, like the Fourth of July Celebration, the annual community awards banquet, and the city-wide yard sale on Mother’s Day weekend. The chamber also has an office on Oregon Avenue, where a full-time employee, formerly Don Amberg, chamber director, would typically assist passersby. He has been laid off since the office’s closing on April 1, 2020.
With fewer volunteers over the years, the Chamber was already limping along before the pandemic. “It’s the same people doing the same thing” for the annual events like the Winter Lights Festival and the July 4 celebration, Napper said. More volunteers means more people to help manage different committees and responsibilities that can be divided up among more people, Napper said.
CHRONICLE FILE PHOTOThe annual tree-lighting event, which in 2018 featured vehicles decorated with lights, was a Chamber event, along with the community-wide yard sale on Mother's Day weekend and the Fourth of July celebration.
The pandemic shuttered all events and tourism money, further challenging the Chamber. The Chamber relies on revenue from the Transient Room Tax (TRT), a surcharge on tourist dollars, for most of its budget. It also generates money from fundraisers as part of the citywide yard sale, annual awards banquet, Fourth of July Celebration, and a holiday lights event.
Chamber membership dues have not been collected for 2020 or ’21, and the Chamber cannot support a full-time staff member to promote business or work at the Chamber office, which has been closed since April 2020, Napper said.
The Cottage Grove and Springfield chambers operate differently than Creswell. Springfield and Cottage Grove have paid employees and a chief executive officer.
Napper and Shauna Neigh, who became the Cottage Grove Chamber’s CEO in May 2020, have been in contact for a couple months, and the idea of a merger was kicked around.
It’s not uncommon for Creswell and Cottage Grove to merge and share resources for the greater good. The Creswell and Cottage Grove fire departments merged in 2003, creating South Lane County Fire & Rescue, and Creswell and Cottage Grove Kiwanis clubs merged in 2019 to form the Coast Fork Kiwanis Club.
While Neigh likes the idea, she said the timing isn’t right.
“We’re in the process of doing a kind of revamp to the Chamber of Commerce here in Cottage Grove ... Doing a merger in the future is something that I am interested in, but right now it’s too big for me to bite off,” Neigh said.
Neigh said she has offered to help the Creswell Chamber board as an advisor to help the group get re-established. Napper and Neigh said they plan to have a video meeting for people interested in joining the Creswell Chamber board.
Neigh offers Creswell business owners in need of promotion to join the Cottage Grove Chamber as well, Neigh said. “I would be happy to support any Creswell business the same as I would support Cottage Grove’s. If we do get a large amount of folks in Creswell, we would be looking to possibly put together an ambassador’s group in Creswell so that we can keep our eyes and ears in its businesses.”
In the event of dissolution, the Creswell Chamber must use the remainder of its money to be distributed to one or more regularly organized and charitable, educational, scientific or philanthropic organizations of the board’s choice.
But with enough support, the Creswell Chamber “can absolutely be rebuilt,” Neigh said. “It will take a while for them to be able to put it all together, but it can be done within a year.”
Napper said an action plan cannot be executed without volunteers. “We need new blood. We need new people. We need new volunteers,” she said.