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Chamber to take new direction in '05

A new year, a new direction is the mood at the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce office these days.

Since the recent departure of its former director of promotions and tourism in December, the Chamber leadership has decided to take time to re-examine its role in the local business community.

Is the Chamber to be a quasi- visitor's and tourism center or is it to be an advocate for small businesses as originally designed?

Is there a better way to do both jobs? Those are the challenges facing the Chamber, which has seen a dramatic shift in its membership activities during the past several years.

While most of the Chamber's attention has been focused on promoting community activities, such as the widely popular Cinco de Mayo celebration, the Chamber's other role as a forum for small businesses has taken a back seat.

"We're faced with an opportunity to reorganize and refocus on our role in the community," said Ruben Carrera, who steps up as Chamber president this year.

Carrera, who is replacing Tom Gaulke as Chamber president, said the Chamber board, while seeking candidates for the Chamber director position, realized the job it was asking that individual to do really requires two people.

While the Chamber Board works to determine how to divide the duties of the Chamber director between business advocacy and events promotions, it has appointed long-time Chamber employee Rhoda Giffin as its interim director.

Giffin's first major task will be to organize the annual Chamber awards banquet and auction, said Carrera. The auction is the Chamber's major fund-raiser for the year, as well as a time to honor the community's outstanding citizens, he explained.

This year's banquet will be held March 12 at Navarro's Community Center in downtown Sunnyside.

But in the meantime, the Chamber board will be working with the Sunnyside Economic Development Association to develop a plan to launch a business retention plan, as well as a plan to better meet the needs of current and future Chamber members, Carrera explained.

"Beefing up Chamber membership tops our list of goals which we adopted at our Jan. 7 general membership meeting," he said.

While discussion centers on who will be the new Chamber director, a number of other questions are also being examined.

"This past year, nearly 1,100 businesses applied for business permits, said Carrera, "Yet our membership sits at just 185 paying Chamber members.

"We have to examine why more of those businesses aren't affiliated with us," he said.

Carrera said first among the changes which will be coming to the chamber will be the eventual hiring of a person to be an events coordinator, who will work with citizen-based groups to organize such community events as the awarding winning Sunnyside Lighted Farm Implement Parade and the state's largest Cinco de Mayo celebration.

"We will seek community volunteers to lead the organization of community celebrations, offering our expertise in publicizing the events, he said.

"We'd like to see more community input and have more citizens' involvement in the events' sponsorship and organization," he said. "We feel if the community wants certain activities to continue, we need the volunteers to step up," he said.

The Chamber leaders will also be focusing attention on boosting it business education programs to support small mom and pop businesses. In addition to promoting business after hours events, the Chamber will seek to offer classes and small forums which will be of interest to small business owners, Carrera explained.

He noted the next business after hours event will be held Tuesday, Jan. 25, at the Chamber office, 520 S. Sixth St.

"We've invited Sunnyside Economic Development Association Executive Director Rado Harrington as our guest speaker at the 6:30 p.m. event," said Carrera.

"This will be an opportunity for the community to become better acquainted with the Chamber, its board, as well as the economic development agency staff and its goals," Carrera said.

The Chamber board is also promoting attendance at its monthly general membership meetings, which are held the first Friday of each month at noon at the Denny Blaine Building on Custer Ave.

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