Chamber connects

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, January 11, 2017
The West Liberty Chamber of Commerce saw its fair share of change last year, but among a topsy-turvy 2016 it nailed down a solid four-word motto:

Connecting business and community

“It’s so simple, but simple is good,” recently appointed Chamber President Jens Zalzala told the audience Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017.

He had just been passed the reins from 2016 President Steve Hanson during the annual Chamber meeting and awards banquet breakfast.

“We spent a lot of time last year trying to figure out what is the Chamber really anymore,” said Zalzala. “There was a lot of question, what does the Chamber do?”

Obviously there are the events. The Chamber has been the chief organizer of Picnic in the Park, Fair Parade, Holiday Open House and more for years.

“Our main focus has been the community, doing whatever we can for the community,” he added. “But we sort of left the businesses behind, and as part of that we left our members behind. This year I think we’re going to shift that a little bit.”

During the breakfast the Chamber handed out several awards as well, the staple of the annual year-end meeting.

Recipient of the Chamber Volunteer of the Year award was Kelly Morrison.

Morrison was chosen for her can-do attitude and willingness to volunteer and help at just about every possible major and minor event that occurs in the community.

“West Liberty has many people, including yourselves, as great volunteers each and every day,” said Morrison, who works for the schools and Kimberly Park Pool.

“I grew up with a family who instilled in me the value of our community,” she added. “So by volunteering myself I hope to inspire others to get involved and make a positive change in our community.”

Meanwhile, the We Lead organization was recognized as the Chamber Member of the Year for improving the community.

Most notably in 2016, We Lead opened the Regional Learning and Cultural Center (RLCC) in downtown West Liberty, which offers a little bit of everything including Muscatine County Community College classes.

Finally, Steve Alt and his recently opened space, known as Liberty Press, was given the Betterment Award.

Liberty Press was quite the hit during the Holiday Open House, filled with old and historic printing presses that can still be used to create authentic, textured, prints.

The Chamber 2016-2017

As previously mentioned, 2016 was quite the year for the Chamber. It moved into the RLCC building, during which time it also championed the Buy Local Campaign.

Last year it featured more businesses in the paper, updated local advertising, designed new window clings and flyers to encourage shopping and re-designed Chamber bucks.

The Chamber also updated its website (, adding a new “Buy Local” section and re-branded the Chamber Business After Hours event to increase attendance.

Of course, the organization also tried to increase its own presence at events, including booths and selling cotton candy at Picnic in the Park and Fiesta West Liberty.

Speaking of which…

“The Chamber was one of the organizations that was behind and encouraging bringing the Latino Festival and Children’s Festival together into Fiesta West Liberty,” said outgoing President Hanson.

“We think that was a huge success this last September,” he added.

Indeed, the Eulenpeigel Puppet Theater and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church were also vital in combining the festivals into one huge downtown extravaganza.

Hanson also had some words for Priscillia Haessig, who worked tirelessly in the background without a title in order to benefit the Chamber.

“First of all we want to start off by thanking all who have served, contributing in any way to benefit this organization,” he said.

“And a special thank you to Priscilla, who doesn’t have a title like board member or director, but she’s Priscillia,” he added. “She’s kind of the glue that keeps everything together.”

One of the challenges faced by the Chamber in 2016 was board turnover.

Over the year six members resigned for various reasons, although the organization was able to fill all the spots except for the most recent departure in December.

The 2017 board consists of President Jens Zalzala, Past President Steve Hanson, City Representative Diane Beranek, Industry Representative Anne Hocke, and members Ethan Anderson, JJ Garcia, Liza Hayes, Eric Maldonado, Ed Moreno and Jason Wertzbaugher.

While President Zalzala noted one of its biggest challenges in 2017 will be reconnecting with businesses, the other will be Iowa State University.

The university will be ending a three-year partnership with the West Liberty Chamber on June 30, a partnership that has helped the local chamber financially.

However, Zalzala both looked and spoke positively about whatever the Chamber may face, emphasizing that it will be more involved in all aspects of the community.

“We started reaching out to some of the individual businesses, and we’re going to really focus on making this a strong community,” noted President Zalzala, stating:

“We’re going to be very active, we’re going to be out there trying to do a lot of things because there’s a lot that needs to be done, but it’s going to be great.”
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