By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Most were extended skyward when the 63 participants at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday were asked if they were “frustrated” with “the climate of business representation” in the city.
None, however, were raised when chamber board President Todd Ortloff asked the attendees if they were fine with how the city’s business needs are being met.
But what will happen to address that broad dissatisfaction remains an open question.
Ortloff, station manager-announcer at KONP radio; chamber board member Steve Burke, executive director of William Shore Memorial Pool, and board member Todd Gubler, general manager of Lake Crescent Lodge, gave the luncheon presentation on their participation on PA United.
The loosely-formed group, which consists of representatives from the chamber, Port Angeles Downtown Association and Port Angeles Business Association, has met four times with the goal of finding ways they might more effectively coordinate tourism, marketing and economic development efforts.
Group members have said solutions could include the three groups merging into one organization.
The PA United facilitator, Jim Haguewood, said PA United is determining how they will relate to each other, and “will they become two or one or three groups, and what will they do and what will they be responsible for.”
PA United has at least one more meeting to go, at 3 p.m. March 26 at a location to be determined.
“We don’t have a plan at this point as far as what the future looks like,” Ortloff said.
“It may end up being just as it is,” he said, adding that if there is a merger, business-organization dues would stay as they are for 2014.
“Who knows what will happen when we’re all done?
“We have to take the time to do the legwork to see what’s best for the community and do better.
“At the chamber, we have a lot of things we should be doing better and could be doing better.”
The Clallam County Economic Development Council is planning, with help from Washington State University Extension, a summit of countywide business and economic development groups later this year with similar goals in mind.
No one at the luncheon spoke in favor of the status quo.
Retired investment banker Kaj Ahlburg said there is $1.5 million being spent on economic development in Clallam County among several different groups whose budgets are “eaten up by fixed costs,” such as personnel.
County administrator Jim Jones said $970,000 of that amount consists of hotel-motel tax proceeds that supports and fosters tourism.
“Functions really need to be consolidated for the sake of not spending more on overhead,” Jones added.
But no one answered in the affirmative when Ortloff asked what he called “the $60,000 question”: Would anyone support dissolving the chamber and having it be absorbed into another entity?
“People are frustrated with the return on their investments that they are getting with the individual groups because they want more,” Chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema said.
“They just want more businesses coming to town or to do better with their business and they would like these groups to help them achieve their goals.”
But the prospect of not having a chamber of commerce “concerns me,” said Willie Nelson, owner of All Points Charters & Tours, pointing to the common avenue for visitor information: the internet.
“If you want to know about a town or a city, you . . . name the city and follow up with the term chamber of commerce and you get all the information you are looking for,” Nelson said.
“If the chamber can’t be found, what are people gonna say?
“‘Holy cow, the town does not have a chamber of commerce, well, forget that.’”
Burke said Bend, Ore., business groups had coalesced together and cooperate on websites but still have some autonomy.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladaily