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New vision, and some old problems, for the Chamber

The Goldendale Sentinel of Goldendale, Washington

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It's been called the Leaning Chamber of Commerce, but it's never going to be a tourist attraction.

"There was a mill in town," recalls Goldendale Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dana Peck. "One of the problems they had, especially after they couldn't burn wood waste anymore, was that a number of lots in towns ended up as repositories of that wood waste."

The Chamber office was built on a cement slab right on top of one of those repositories. "That corner lot happened to be one of the places many years ago where that stuff got put, and it's not exactly stable soil," Peck says. The result, as many have experienced, is that pens would roll off desks, chairs on rollers would roll to the northwest, as the building shifted further into the underlying wood waste.

With Peck as the new executive director and a substantially new board and new direction just ahead, the Chamber is still in exile from its old building, lifted and then replaced on a new foundation meant to shore it up.

"Something had to be done," Peck says. "And in the course of excavating for a new and stable foundation, they ended up going down far enough to find stability that they thought, we'll put a basement in. That wasn't the original plan. When they did the basement, it had to be handicapped accessible. And you have to have a bathroom. And when you expanded the building, you need the heating system. It's been one of these cascading things that led to us not being there nearly as fast as they originally thought we were going to be, and then there's still things that need to be done."

And it's still not certain whether or not the building is now level. Peck says they're going to get somebody in to answer that question. "We have hopes of being in there in the spring, but I doubt that we will be in there before spring at this rate," he reflects.

With Peck's arrival, taking the place of retiring executive director Earlene Sullivan, the Chamber is on a dramatic course change. Peck sees the Chamber becoming something that will incorporate more of the county rather than just "greater" Goldendale, and he wants to provide marketing services to members that might build their business with no cost to them.

"First and foremost," Peck acknowledges, "Earlene was just superb. This has become a respected organization in the community; it's got a couple of successful events that it undertakes in the course of the year, and trying to replace her on the face of place is no small accomplishment because she is just beloved — that's the word. The thing that builds on what she has done and hopefully takes it into kind of the next level is being very committed to the idea that the Chamber is here to help its member make more money. Our activities initially ought to be focused on what can we do to drive more business to our membership, and in the our membership, and in the near term that means finding more outside tourism dollars that we can bring in. Earlene was working on bus tours and is planning to be back on the board. I have asked her to keep working on that because she has kind of turned herself into the expert. My own focus is more on looking at who comes here on their own, without any marketing effort, and that tends to be the motor sports community, the sports car club, the motorcycle clubs, the cycle clubs, the sports on Maryhill, the bicycle tours. And the real goal in 'the tourism strategy is to get people to stay overnight." Peck's premise is, basically, build on the traffic that is already coming into town. "It's 'a dual focus initially, and it's; going be heavy on the sports car club because they are coming here in large numbers on Highway 97," he points out. "The Maryhill Winery, the Jacob Williams folks, they get sports car clubs all the time that don't come up the hill. And the other aspect of it is, these clubs can turn it into a day trip without a whole lot of effort. And I think the low-hanging fruit for encouraging them to stay overnight is the Observatory It's a unique and quite frankly really magnificent place to visit and a good reason to stay overnight. You cater dinner and go up to the Observatory for a presentation, which appeals to my objective of trying to keep them overnight and try to do more business in the community And for those people in the audience that haven't experienced Troy Carpenter's presentation at the Observatory, it's really worth going up and doing it, and you'll go back more than once. I think that is a highly marketable thing."

Peck believes the Chamber will be more effective by reaching out into the rest of the county. "There are two chambers in the county" he says. "I have already spoken with my counterpart there [the Mt. Adams Chamber] and with their board, just introducing myself. I don't want to bump in or inadvertently step on their toes, and they were very comfortable with the line being between Goldendale and their area, because of the characteristics of those communities. They are all for practical purposes on the same road: White Salmon and Bingen. When they get in a car and they drive some place, they drive to White Salmon." Peck has been slowly working through a list of communities, fishing for opportunities that will allow the area to work more closely together.

And he's been advocating a new marketing approach. With high-end marketing specialist Nicole Lundin hired by the Chamber, Peck wants to make her expertise available to Chamber members. "We want to make that skill set available to them on our nickel," he says, "so they can advertise more effectivel and online. They have all done pretty good at putting the events on, they are OK with advertising, and they are ready to go the next level. And I think we can help them get there." There is some tension from some members about the fact that Lundin's husband, Richard, is a director on the Chamber board, and some question why Lundin alone is just being handed a substantial portion of the Chamber's tourism dollars from the city without putting the job out for a request for proposal. So far, neither issue is showing signs of being pushed much.

Meanwhile the Chamber is moving ahead with new events, one of which is imminent, its Shop Local show at the Goldendale Grange on Nov. 8 between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. The event is already filled up with businesses ready to show the public (the event is free) why they should shop local.



Copyright 2015 The Goldendale Sentinel, Goldendale, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015



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