Chamber, V&C bureau to merge

October 10, 2001 11:00 pm

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

The Baker County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau have decided to join forces, creating what they hope will become a more efficient organization dedicated to securing more funding and improving tourism, business development and community events.

The boards for both groups voted unanimously Tuesday to merge, said VCB board chair David Jordan.

The new group, which is filing for non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service, calls itself Marketing Baker County, Inc. According to Cheri Smith, the Chambers executive director, the new organization will probably be housed in the current Chamber office, 490 Campbell Street.

Its the front door to our community, she said.

The plan calls for employees of both organizations to submit their resignations by Dec. 31. A new 9-member board composed of four members with a tourism background, four from business and one at-large would select a new executive director, who would in turn appoint a tourism marketing manager, an event coordinator/developer and two visitor information/receptionists.

Smith said she strongly supports the plan, despite the fact that it could cost her her job. She said she will be a candidate for MBCs executive director position.

Looking down the barrel of being terminated is a little nerve-wracking, she said.

The proposed budget, pegged at $340,000 annually, does not include money for the economic developer position now being considered by Baker County Commissioners and a group of elected officials from around the county called Baker Communities United.

But the new development specialist would fit nicely with what Marketing Baker County is trying to accomplish, said Baker County Commission Chair Brian Cole.

The new group faces what is possibly a formidable political hurdle.

It hopes to convince the Baker City Council to repeal the citys transient room tax ordinance, under which the city receives a portion of the rental revenue from local motels and bed-and-breakfasts.

Marketing Baker County hopes the county and every city within the county will approve their own transient room tax ordinances.

Under such a scenario, Baker Citys share of the TRT now 25 percent of revenue, or about $60,000 per year would drop from 25 percent to five percent.

Baker City Manager Gordon Zimmerman said he thought that MBC had come up with an excellent plan, but that any reduction in the citys general fund needs to be looked at carefully. Ultimately the decision is the (city) councils.

Smith said that the seven members of MBCs steering committee would lobby Baker City Council members to try to convince them that the plan is in Baker Citys interest. In its transition plan, MBC says it will present a countywide TRT ordinance proposal to the city council during its Oct. 23 meeting.

The new plan has several advantages, MBC says. The economies of scale should prove beneficial one board, one marketing plan, one set of books, and the cost of maintaining just one website. In addition, the plan says, having one group dedicated to marketing the county and providing business support and development will eliminate turf wars and infighting.

MBC could also help market the proposed armory and conference center, Baker Sports Complex and outdoor recreation opportunities, Smith said.

Cole said he was pleased the plan contained that provision.

The plan would also extend the hours that visitor information workers could meet and greet the public, Smith said. MBC would like to staff the visitor outreach office seven days per week, up to 72 hours per week.

She said that Chamber members will see their businesses marketed more effectively with a combined staff. It could lead, she said, to more success stories like Anderson Perry & Associates, an engineering firm that continues to explore Baker County through the Chambers website as a place where their outdoor-loving engineers might like to live.

Historic Baker City and the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association will continue as separate entities, Smith said.

It was enough of a struggle getting two boards together, she said with a smile.

She said the groups may elect to join with MBC at a later date.

Nancy Peyron facilitated the MBC steering committee, which has met weekly since August 13.

Ive only been here for a year, and they needed somebody from the outside, Peyron said. The idea of bringing together diverse people has always interested me.

They were a very respectful, honest group, willing to work through their conflicts. And by the time they were ready to present to the two boards Tuesday, they had already anticipated most of their questions. It was a very satisfactory process.