PORT TOWNSEND — The Chamber of Jefferson County has taken the past two years to transition into an organization that connects the dots between building business and community.
Executive Director Arlene Alen revealed December survey results and the speaker of April’s Community Leadership Award event on Monday during the chamber’s monthly luncheon at the Elks Club in Port Townsend.
“The significant change this chamber made is the reason you are here today,” she said.
Alen said chambers hadn’t changed much in their 150-year history and used to focus on connecting one member to another.
“Chambers of the past used to be old boys’ clubs,” she said. “Guys got together on Friday night at the bar and told old war stories.
“They ultimately realized there was one guy who was friends with the mayor, and he could go lobby the mayor to get them the one object they wanted.”
Technology has been the driving force for change, Alen said.
“If we grow the economy, then all of your businesses will grow as well.”
Karen Best, the president of the chamber’s board of directors, said hiring Alen two years ago was the start of the transition period.
“We wanted to re-shape how we do business as a chamber so we can better assist you when you do business,” Best said.
Since then, the chamber has hired a membership experience coordinator and a communications project specialist to work on marketing efforts.
It plans to start a Women Doing Business group focused on mentorships, grow its Young Professionals network and re-engage its Ambassador program, Alen said.
The chamber also has been named the destination marketing organization for the city of Port Townsend, she said.
More than half of its membership — about 520 in all — have been with the chamber for at least five years, Alen said.
“To have a lot of members to stay with a chamber for an extended period like that is very unusual,” she said. “I think that says a lot about the community as well as the chamber.”
Alen said most responses from the chamber’s December survey indicated most joined for marketing and community engagement.
County-wide housing keeps people up at night, she said, and a lack of diversity — in many different ways — also is a factor.
“There are opportunities that we have to work with you on, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Alen said.
One of the chamber’s biggest events is the annual Jefferson County Community Leadership Awards.
Alen said the April 25 event, which will be held at the Old Alcohol Plant in Port Hadlock, will feature Tracy Garrett, a retired major general from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Garrett, who lives in Port Townsend with her husband and two children, will speak about leadership, Alen said.
She said Garrett retired from the military four years ago and now serves on the board for USAA, which has 30,000 employees.
“She’s fabulous,” Alen said. “Not only is she going to be our speaker, she’s also going to be involved in mentorship with our Women Doing Business program.
“We are so excited that she’s committing to that venue.”
Nomination forms for the leadership awards can be found at tinyurl.com/PDN-ChamberAwards. Categories include Citizen of the Year, Business Leader of the Year, Rising Entrepreneur, Young Professional of the Year and Future Business Leader.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].