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Phoenix chamber finds its footing

PHOENIX — With a 50 percent increase in membership since May and its first office/visitors center since March of 2014, the Chamber of Commerce is rebounding from low enrollment and City Council concerns.

President Melissa Waggy joined the chamber board just before it closed its office in the Shoppes at Exit 24 when the lease expired. She is now donating office space in the building she leases for her Simply Sassy Salon hair business at 3995 S. Pacific Highway, across from the 7-Eleven.

“We got only $5,000 from the city, so we couldn't afford to pay the rent and utilities,” said Waggy. A city offer of space between City Hall and the fire station was turned down by the board because it lacked parking for visitors in RVs.

The city gave the chamber $8,000 for a couple years when it was putting on events and staffing an office, but cut that back to $5,000 when they offered the space, said Mayor Jeff Bellah. In this fiscal year, the city will give up to $5,000 but is linking its allocations to specific projects. The city paid for a sign on the highway for the new office and also donated a computer to the organization.

Talent has donated a total of $2,500 to its chamber this year and also provides office space and utilities for $1 per year, City Recorder Melissa Huhtala reported. Talent has also waived fees regularly for events in Town Hall and for the Grape Fair permit.

Phoenix’s council wanted the chamber to put on events, but Waggy said the organization lacked both a location to hold them and a website.

“I couldn’t raise money for an entity the community didn’t know existed,” said Waggy.

Since becoming president in June, Waggy has increased board of directors meeting from quarterly to monthly. The board is working on goals to create a new foundation for the organization, and the website has been reestablished.

There are 287 brick and mortar business in the Phoenix area, according Waggy. This month, she reported to the council that membership was 74, compared with 49 in May. At one time, chamber membership numbered 125.

“There’s a lot of businesses here. It doesn’t look like it because it’s all spread out,” said Waggy.

Waggy works in the office Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The board wants to hire an employee to expand hours, but needs to set policies and procedures first, she said. The vision is to have the office open for three hours a day Monday through Friday.

“I think Melissa is trying hard to revive that board and get them moving in the right direction,” said Bellah. “She’s got some projects going.”

A community center planned to be built by Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency on Main Street has been suggested as a future home for the chamber.

“We’d like to keep the center open all the time so people could gather,” said Bellah. “ If we had a tenant like the chamber that could be there, it would be a win-win for both of us.”

Financial circumstances would make it difficult for the chamber to provide a full-time employee, Waggy said.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.