Chamber in search mode



October 16, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Absent an executive director, the Iola Area Chamber of Commerce is using this period to not only search for new leadership but also to re-examine its goals.
Shelia Lampe’s last official day at the Chamber was Oct. 9, according to Loren Korte, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors.
Longtime assistant Aileen Wilson, meanwhile, will keep the doors open and the phone answered. The Chamber’s new office hours will be from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Korte said he is doubtful the Chamber, 208 W. Madison, will be able to afford a full-time director. Recently, Lampe went to a part-time position, working three days a week.
“We’re advertising for a part-time position,” he said. “I don’t know if there will ever be enough funding to go back to full time again. It’s possible, but doubtful.”
Korte also hesitated to endorse a full-time position, even if funding were available, pointing to Humboldt’s successful all-volunteer Chamber.
“Maybe we just need the right people doing the right thing,” Korte said.
“We’re not going broke,” he added, but admitted times have been better.
Korte said the Chamber’s coffers will receive a boost when it collects membership dues come the first of the year. And, “we’ll give a discount for those who renew early.”

THE CHAMBER has three funding mechanisms: Membership dues, which are tiered according to a business’s number of employees; fundraising events; and a portion of the receipts from the city’s guest tax.
Membership has dipped recently, Wilson said.
Current membership lists 107 individuals and businesses, down from 137 in 2011. Of those, 16 members have either ceased operations or passed away.
“Losing an industry like Haldex put a dent in our budget,” Korte said. As an industry with between 101 and 300 employees, it would have paid $554 in annual dues, according to the Chamber’s website. Haldex closed five years ago.
The City of Iola helps the Chamber through its Transient Guest Tax Fund, a tax Iola’s three motels pay from occupancies.
Currently, 11 non-profits take advantage of what is commonly known as the “bed tax.”
To date, the Chamber has received $18,700 from this fund. For 2014, it received $32,500, according to Roxanne Hutton, city clerk.
“We try to give the Chamber a big chunk of the funding because we know the important role it plays in our community,” Hutton said. “Our funding, however, depends on how many people spend the night in Iola motels, and it varies year to year.”
Before any money is distributed among the non-profits that request the funds, the Allen County Historical Society automatically receives one-third, Hutton said.
To date, the historical society has received $15,500 for 2015.
Others, receiving  anywhere from $250 to $1,200, include the Veterans Day Committee, the Buster Keaton Celebration, Farm-City Days, Iola Community Theatre, Pickleball group, Southwind Rail Trail, CITY/PRIDE and Rotary’s Smokin’ Hot Cars and BBQ event.
The City of Humboldt provided more than $6,600 this year for its Chamber of Commerce, with $8,102 due for 2016.
Like Iola, the Chanute Chamber relies on three prongs of funding. The only difference is that Chanute’s contract to provide business and tourism outreach includes a specific amount of funds.

THE DROP in membership has Korte concerned.
“We  need to do a better job of selling the Chamber to prospective members to show them how it can be an asset to their business,” he said. “We also need to re-establish a lot of relationships we’ve let falter.”
Ideally, the Chamber is the “face” of the business and retail community to outsiders and helps coordinate events that promote retail activity.
Korte said the board is committed to keeping the Santa House on the square during the Christmas season.
“Boren’s Roofing is putting a new roof on Santa’s House as we speak,” he said. And on Halloween it will sponsor “Trunk or Treat,” at 5 p.m. in Riverside Park.
As for the Chamber Expo, which at one time swarmed the New Community Building with area merchants and vendors, Korte said board members are re-evaluating the event.
“We still want to do it, but perhaps with a different twist. We’ve tried it at different times of the year, and with every change we saw less involvement. Maybe it’s time to go back to the first of the year,” he said.
In her 11 years with the Chamber, Wilson has worked with four directors. Lampe had just marked her fourth year when she stepped down.
Job qualifications include high energy, good organization skills, and a passion for Iola.
“Find me a good one,” Wilson said.

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