The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce is in transition as it once again searches for a new executive director.
Members are brainstorming the Chamber’s evolution and plotting its own survival.
“We are open to ideas; it’s just how do we get these ideas done with the budget that we have and without a captain running the ship?” Chamber Board President Chris Cahall asked members during a meeting May 10.
Former Director Terri Crain resigned last month and is volunteering part-time until the Chamber finds her replacement.
Cahall prompted suggestions from members on who would they would like to see fill that role.
However, in talks about the Chamber’s future, Cahall revealed what’s next could be more complicated than a simple personnel search.
“Everything is on the table,” Cahall explained. “Even closing the chamber.”
Working with a $100,000 annual budget, the Chamber sinks most of it into rent, utilities and the director’s salary, Cahall said.
It’s left with a $20,000 chunk to invest in member services every year.
Cahall urged membership and the Board to innovate the chamber to become a relevant asset to local business owners. There are up 250-300 chamber members; Nearly 30 attended the meeting Thursday morning.
Members answered back with a variety of suggestions, including leaving its space on Honeycutt Road to alleviate overhead costs, increasing the salary and insurance package for its future director and lending an olive branch to local chambers in an effort to combine membership dues, among others.
Chamber member Tom Buessing offered to donate office space from his own company, Highway 238 Industrial Park.
“We can’t dissolve this chamber; it’s not an option,” Buessing said.
UltraStar Multi-tainment Center General Manager Adam Saks suggested adding health insurance to the future director’s benefits package to attract a highly qualified applicant.
Saks echoed other members who said they’d like to hire a candidate who will end the revolving door of high-turnaround hires that have plagued the Chamber in recent years.
Saks also took aim at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Maricopa Power Networking Group, describing the separate chambers as “the biggest detriment to what’s been going on” with perceived fragmentation among the groups.
“Much as the community and the city work together to always weave that fabric tighter, the chambers are just shooting holes in each other, and the fabric is falling apart,” Saks added.
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board Member Julia Gusse was in attendance. The Maricopa city councilwoman is also a member of the Maricopa chamber.
Gusse said the Hispanic Chamber was created, in part, to break down language barriers she said the Maricopa Chamber could not tackle.
She said Latino business owners in the city felt disenfranchised.
“I made this recommendation (in the past) to the Chamber that they needed someone who spoke Spanish and not someone necessarily who’s Hispanic,” Gusse said.
Cahall responded to Gusse, saying the Maricopa Chamber offered a seat on their Board to the Hispanic Chamber, but the offer was not taken.
County Supervisor, Anthony Smith, a former Maricopa mayor, suggested the Chamber find ways to compromise with its counterparts and combine.
Smith also voiced his concern over what he called the city council’s “lack of support” toward the Maricopa Chamber.
“I think any city that wants to have strong economic development must have the coupling between city leadership and the business community, and I don’t see that 100 percent from the Maricopa City Council,” Smith said. “To be honest with you, that is unhealthy.”
Mayor Christian Price, a Chamber member, suggested revolutionizing what the Chamber has grown accustomed to in its practices by unifying chamber factions.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and we’ve got to tear it all down and restart it. That doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bath water,” Price said.
“It’s going to take all of these groups coming together, and that will help us as a chamber on how we need to function and operate.”
The Chamber Board will meet next week to review director applications.