The future of the West Liberty Chamber of Commerce has been somewhat of a mystery the last few months, ever since the retirement of its last director, Letha Ottaway, it has hinted at oncoming changes.
Last week the Chamber made it official, it'll be moving from the depot campus, where it has been located for several years, into We Lead's office on Third Street this September.
"It was not an easy decision to move out of the depot," said Chamber President Jason Cassady. "But for the direction we wanted to go, we had to make this move."
The Chamber's new direction includes, among other things, the addition of a Latino Community Liaison. It wants to break into the Hispanic community, however the current cost of living was too high for the Chamber to add a position.
"We would not have been financially able to have this position and stay in the depot," added Cassady. "To grow and do all these things for the community we had to make a difficult decision."
The move will also capitalize on another area the Chamber has struggled with, its hours of business.
Right now the Chamber is open nine to noon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It can be quite a challenge for the community to contact the Chamber in that limited range of time.
The move onto Third Street will help both organizations combine assets and run more efficiently. Housed in the same building, they'll share rent and utilities, while having someone available more often.
"Being in the We Lead office with all of us working together will create a really nice synergy," said We Lead Director and Chamber board member Shannon McNaul. "We don't want to have any duplication, we want to make sure we are as efficient as we can be to get the maximum results for the community."
This new direction for the Chamber also includes partnering with the Iowa State University Extension, much in the same way We Lead already has. The Latino Community Liaison will be partially funded by ISU. But that's not all.
"By joining Iowa State, there's more resources we and our local businesses can use," said Cassady, "Iowa State can also come and do classes for us."
While the two organizations will be under one roof, they'll continue to operate as separate entities with separate boards and missions statements.
We Lead focuses on bringing in new business and economic growth while the Chamber supports business already in town.
The Chamber will also continue putting together the annual events that West Liberty has grown used to, such as the fair parade, Picnic in the Park, the golf tournament and open house thanks to its new temporary director, Priscilla Haessig. The director position will be taken over by whoever is hired as the Latino Community Liason
The Chamber began discussing changes months ago after receiving the results of a survey it sent out to the community, which indicated that West Liberty wanted more.
"After the survey came out, as a board we sat down and went over this survey and said, 'Okay, here are the areas that people want us to fix,'" said McNaul.
They discussed several possibilities, from becoming one organization to not joining ISU. However, they came to the conclusion of moving together while keeping separate identities.
"For financial reasons, it's much stronger to remain as separate entities," she added. "For instance We Lead and the Chamber could apply for the same grant and possibly both get the same grant because we both have different tax ID numbers."
At the same time, McNaul had been talking with ISU about increasing its involvement in West Liberty with a Latino Liaison. After Ottaway announced her retirement McNaul approached the Chamber about partnering with ISU.
We Lead wanted to reach out to the Hispanic population. It had written out a grant to hire for the position; however, it would have only been part-time. With the addition of the Chamber, the position turned into a full-time one with benefits.
"It seemed like a nice way to tie the two together, plus we had wanted to increase the number of the Latino businesses with the Chamber as well, so it was a good fit," said McNaul.
With that, a lot of decisions were made in a relatively short amount of time. However, the Chamber believes in the move.
"To have it all under my watch, it's been very busy," said Cassady. "The next president coming in, Josh Gingerich, it's going to be challenging for him as well. It's going to take a lot of teamwork."
WL Chamber makes changesJacob Lane · Thursday, July 24, 2014