Keith Davies: Funding chamber of commerce an investment, not an expense
A recent opinion piece by Jim Firth made some valid points about the methodology of choosing new city council members when a vacancy occurs.
Unfortunately, Mr. Firth apparently wants to blame the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce for the city deciding to appoint someone rather than holding a special election.
In his recent Other Voices column, Firth wrote, “If the city council hadn’t provided substantial monies to the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce there could have been enough money to hold an election for the public to decide who the newest city council member would be.”
So that Firth and others can better understand the process, support from city hall is not for chamber operational costs — it is earmarked for the Visitor Information Center, a valuable resource that serves all of western Nevada County.
The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce does a great job assisting visitors, as does the South County, Penn Valley and Rough & Ready chambers. But the VIC on East Main Street is the largest, most comprehensive visitor resource in this region.
The VIC serves as a clearinghouse of information and offers displays featuring all elements of county life including the performing and visual arts, the Sierra Vintners Association, Dignity Health Hospital, Empire Mine State Park, the Nevada County Contractors Association, and others. In fact, more than 10,000 people stopped by the Visitor Information Center in 2014 — many of them first-time visitors looking for assistance.
To its credit, for fiscal year 2014-15 the Grass Valley City Council contributed $10,000 to the GGVCC to help operate the VIC, and similar amounts to support the Grass Valley Downtown Association and Nevada County Economic Resource Council. We consider all three contributions to be smart investments in the future of our county.
In Nevada City, the chamber of commerce receives 8 percent of all collected transient occupancy tax, (also known as bed tax), as well as free rent at the South Yuba Canal Building. The TOT contribution alone is often over $25,000 a year. The Nevada City Council, like its counterpart in Grass Valley, considers such support to be an investment, not an expense.
Meanwhile, over in Truckee, the town council generously contributes $300,000 a year to the local chamber of commerce — half to maintain its Visitor Information Center and half for marketing and promoting eastern Nevada County.
We very much appreciate the city council’s support of the VIC, but when viewed against the level of support given to chambers of commerce in Nevada City and Truckee, it’s certainly not so extravagant as to alarm Mr. Firth and cause him to blame us for the process chosen to fill a city council vacancy. We hope that in the future he will consider the yearly contribution from city hall to the GGVCC in its proper context.
Mr. Firth might also be interested in knowing that the daily operation of the GGVCC is self-sustaining. We currently have over 530 dues-paying members as well as several Friends of the Chamber — businesses and individuals who contribute well beyond their yearly dues. As a self-sustaining chamber office, we work with the GVDA and other chambers of commerce to help organize and promote local events, including the July 4th parade and celebration at the fairgrounds.
Our office handles over 10,000 telephone calls a year, issues relocation and wedding packets to hundreds of people, conducts monthly business seminars, hosts quarterly breakfast meetings with keynote speakers who address local issues, and promote our members through the GGVCC website. All this and more without taxpayers’ funding.
Needless to say, when we read Mr. Firth’s claim that a special election could have been held if only the city council wasn’t spending so much city money supporting the chamber of commerce, we felt compelled to respond and let The Union readers know that a small-town chamber of commerce can maintain a high standard of promotion and marketing without the kind of yearly contributions from city hall enjoyed by other chambers of commerce.
We understand that Jim Firth is retired, so perhaps he would like to volunteer his time as a docent at the Visitor Information Center, assisting visitors to western Nevada County? His help would be welcomed by our other community volunteers.
Keith Davies is co-CEO and executive director of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce.
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