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M-I Chamber Making Comeback

MONMOUTH -- Falling memberships and declining revenue had put the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce on the ropes in 2010.

MONMOUTH -- Falling memberships and declining revenue had put the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce on the ropes in 2010.

A reorganization, however, appears to be paying dividends.

Chamber leaders anticipate a surplus at the end of this fiscal year. They've also welcomed about 40 new and returning business members, and have spawned a lecture series in conjunction with Western Oregon University.

"I think we're in a much better place now," said Terri Gregory, who was elected board president in January.

The chamber had been wrestling a $10,000 deficit -- about a sixth of its budget -- in early 2010 brought on by the poor economy and the high cost of operating its visitor center at 309 N. Pacific Ave.

A full-time manager and part-time worker were laid off, which stymied newsletter and communication with members. Fundraiser planning fell behind schedule.

Several factors contributed to the recovery, Gregory said.

One was hiring a half-time chamber manager, Marilyn Morton, after nine months of volunteer board members having to run the office.

Morton said the chamber trimmed its operating budget, but also straightened out a subsidy issue with one of its namesake cities; Independence was uncertain last year it could continue to uphold an agreement to contribute $5,400 annually to support the chamber visitor center.

"Both cities are current," Morton said, noting that instead of a deficit, the chamber is projecting an 8 percent revenue surplus by the end of its fiscal year.

Healthy enough is the budget that the chamber plans to make Morton a 3/4-time employee by April, Gregory said.

Membership has risen from 105 to 145, a combination of new applicants and returning ones.

Its 16-member appointed board is now filled and includes representatives from the Oregon State University Extension Office and WOU. That affiliation has led to planned guest speakers on agri-tourism and a "brown bag" lecture series that began at the beginning of March at WOU aimed at familiarizing businesses with social media.

There's still work to do, Gregory said. The chamber wants to beef up its online presence to meet "virtual tourism" demands. There's also still the issue of the center, rent for which has hurt the chamber's bottom line, past board members have said.

The chamber may investigate whether there's a need to relocate from Highway 99W, though no alternative sites have been selected, Gregory said.

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The last of the free "Brown Bag Lunch and Learn Series at WOU" will take place at noon on March 22 in the University Park Conference Center, located at the north end of campus.

The subject will be how to incorporate social media into a business' existing web site. For more information, visit www.wou.edu/extendedprograms or call 503-838-8483.

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