'Huge challenge for 2008'

Chamber director, board expect good things for new year

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Visitor Center update

Gene Bilodeau, former Craig Chamber of Commerce board president and spokesman for the joint committee investigating funding solutions for the Moffat County Visitor Center, told the Chamber board a solution could be coming soon.

"My confidence level is high," Bilodeau told the board.

The Chamber subsidizes much of the Visitor Center's operational costs each year. This year, the board requested additional funding from other sources such as local government to ease the Chamber's burden and secure money to hire additional Visitor Center staffing.

Chamber officials said the organization would need $15,000 to hire a satisfactory amount of staff.

After the Moffat County Tourism Association voted an extra $7,000 in funding, the Chamber threw in $2,000 from its budget and Deer Park Inn and Suites and Severson Supply Company together donated $1,000, the Chamber still is about $5,000 from its goal, Bilodeau said.

He originally planned to address the Moffat County Commission and Craig City Council at their meetings Jan. 7, but decided to wait because he heard there was interest from MCTA to have some more discussions.

Bilodeau plans to speak at the MCTA meeting Jan. 16.

— Christina Currie, Craig Chamber of Commerce executive director, is proud of her organization's achievements last year but doesn't think her board should rest on its laurels.

"We always want to get better," Currie said. "We have a huge challenge for 2008 because we had such a successful 2007. I'm really excited to hear at our (board) retreat what kinds of things we can do to make our mark this year."

The retreat is planned for Jan. 24, a little more than three weeks before the Chamber's annual member meeting at the State of the County on Feb. 19.

The State of the County, which allows city and county officials to directly address a large segment of their constituency, ranks up there as one of the Chamber's 2007 successes, Currie said.

That, along with Member Appreciation Day - which was well received and the Chamber will definitely do again, Currie said - as well as Ride the Rockies, helping with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall replica, the beautification project at Fourth and Ranney streets, the housing directory, creating a new dues structure to better serve members and the "buy-local" impact from spree dollars were considered successes in 2007.

The total amount of spree dollars sold finished slightly more than $297,000, according to the Chamber's 2007 Yearend Report.

Currie did address the recent news of fraudulent spree dollars. A total of four were spent around the same time, but word got out fast enough that the damages were contained, she said.

The Chamber is taking further steps to make spree dollars harder to produce, but Currie would like to keep those specifics internal, she told the board.

Also, interest in the Chamber's Web site is growing, illustrated by the nearly 30,000 hits to its homepage. The hotel vacancy calendar had nearly 11,000 visits, and member business Web sites were accessed 8,375 times.

The Moffat County Visitor Center had 7,800 calls and 7,403 walk-ins in 2007. Mailings requested came in at 717, down from last year possibly because Chamber employees have directed many inquiries to its Web site.

Member response to the Chamber's new due structure has been overwhelmingly positive, with the exception of local nonprofit groups, whose rates could increase from $50 to $125 for the base membership.

"We went back and forth on that because that's a fairly big increase for a nonprofit," Currie said.

Board president and Daily Press publisher Bryce Jacobson chaired his first meeting and said he recently took calls from three nonprofits upset with the change. However, after talking through some of the added benefits, two of them seemed to look more favorably at the new structure, he said.

Jacobson also wanted to make sure the board saw that although the Chamber picked up 41 new members in 2007, it lost 49.

According to Chamber data found in the Yearend Report, 15 of those losses were from businesses closing or moving and two were explicitly reported as being "unhappy." The others were removed for membership non-payment and because their businesses are based out of the area and pulled back their Craig-based operations.

One specific area members were unhappy with was the continued lack of a Chamber-sponsored health care insurance package, Currie said.

"Our biggest problem (with that) is our ruralness," Currie said. "The lack of plans available here and the lack of providers makes that really difficult."

Area health care providers are stretched thin already, and some in that field have been quoted as saying their costs are going up while insurance reimbursements are going down, making the business side of health care harder to manage.

The Chamber did ask some providers if they could offer a 10 or 5 percent discount on consumer medical costs, but no provider said they could, Currie said.

Affordable health insurance "is something employers, especially small businesses, could really use," she added. "Unfortunately, we haven't figured out how to make it happen yet."

That may very well come up at the board retreat as a focus for 2008, Currie said.

What she sees as a primary issue, and plans to have the Chamber look at in some capacity or another, is Moffat County's apparent labor shortage.

"Certainly the biggest issue facing our business community is workforce," Currie said. "My anticipation is that this is an issue no one group can tackle."

She was unsure what the Chamber could do to offset the workforce shortage, but she said the Chamber would be willing to partner with other agencies to look at alleviating the causes and negative effects.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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