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Summit Chamber hopes for new members in 2010

CAITLIN ROW
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – With membership renewals due April 1, Summit County Chamber of Commerce president Rob Waterman said the countywide business organization is busy planning for 2010 despite its financial transition.

“We’re pretty much over the hump,” Waterman said of the chamber’s 2009 financial troubles created by dwindling income.

Summit Chamber’s board restructured its operations in 2009 by reducing the scope of services and laying off its three staff members. This was due to a big drop in membership caused by the economic downturn, Waterman said.

The Summit Chamber reported in July 2009 that it lost $45,000 in 2009 in terms of non-renewals, and the organization is 95 percent membership driven in terms of income. This, compounded with debt problems, forced the chamber to restructure and become solely operated by its board, volunteers and members. The information center located the Outlets at Silverthorne is no longer being maintained by the Summit Chamber – Waterman said the Outlets have taken it over.

The chamber is now completely focused on business-to-business services, including networking, its community website, mixers and seminars, Waterman said. It serves Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Dillon, Frisco, Keystone and Silverthorne.

According to Summit Chamber spokeswoman Karen Mason, the Summit Chamber continues to represent business interests at the local, county, state and federal levels. It will also still monitor local business trends by conducting “regular business barometer surveys” and reporting those results. Other chamber membership benefits include discounted entrance fees for mixers and educational events, advertising and website opportunities, marketing benefits like access to chamber membership mailing and e-mail lists, event sponsorship opportunities and member-to-member benefits.

Board members are currently working on an events calendar for 2010, including regularly scheduled mixers and educational events, and a legislative affairs series featuring presentations from local and state lawmakers, and discussions on policy issues.

Mason said some type of event will be held every month, whether it’s a mixer or an educational event.

Members of the Summit Chamber board of directors also recently met to develop a strategic 90-day plan. It will be used to maintain the chamber under its new, volunteer-run structure.

Since the chamber cannot yet afford to have a paid staff again, its board members have split up chamber duties into five committees, including membership, marketing, legislative affairs, day-to-day duties and finance. The board will meet every 90 days to plan and organize for the year.

“It takes a good chunk of time to plan,” she said.

The Summit Chamber’s 90-day plan also addressed what the chamber will be able to do in terms of how many renewals it gets.

“We’re optimistic, but membership renewals will tell the rest of the story,” Waterman said. “What we’ll do in terms of events, hiring staff and debt will rely on (2010) membership.”

Waterman said the chamber had approximately 380 members in 2009, and early 2010 renewals have brought in about 40 percent of that. He said he’s hopeful that membership will increase by April, and he’s “really happy with the number that’s renewed” so far. New membership numbers were not yet available.

“It’s up in the air how many people would renew after last year,” Waterman said, adding that the Summit Chamber has offered its current and new members discounted rates for early renewals.

Abby’s Coffee owner Dave Verschure said he didn’t plan to renew his membership after 13 years with the Summit Chamber, mostly due to its expense.

“It’s a good-sized check to write,” he said. “It’s not worth it at this point.”

Waterman remains encouraged by early membership interest however, saying he’s sure first-time members have joined already this year.

Whether the Summit Chamber will be able to hire new staff members in 2010 is hard to say, Waterman added. He said he just doesn’t know what 2010 membership will look like at this stage. The chamber however has budgeted to make substantial payments to its debt this year – up to $2,000 each month.

“The chamber is trying to work out its debt and the exact amount that will be paid,” Waterman said, who was unable to release exact debt information as of Sunday.

For more information about membership and volunteer opportunities, visit the Summit Chamber website at http://www.summitchamber.org, call (970) 668-2051 or e-mail Waterman at waterman12@mindspring.com.

Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at crow@summitdaily.com.


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