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Asking the right questions: Chamber President wants to hear from local businesses
Throughout much of her career, Peggy McNamara has had the answers, or at least known where to find them. She has been a corporate director of education, a real estate agent and “kind of a clean-up girl” brought in to restructure struggling offices. She teaches online classes on real estate, and in the past year, she finished a major reorganization of the Acres of Diamonds women’s shelter in Duvall. In her newest volunteer role, though, McNamara has none of the answers, “but lots of questions,” she says.
McNamara, a Carnation resident for four years, was elected president of the Carnation Chamber of Commerce in March, and since then, she’s been working steadily on answering the biggest question facing the group: What do its members, numbering only in the 50s although the city reports more than 300 businesses total, want?
“I think for a Chamber, especially this size of a Chamber, one of the greatest challenges is what do we do to bring value to the business owners,” she said, “and how can we really help them?”
A slightly different version of that question — how she, herself could help an organization in town as a volunteer — is what brought her to the Chamber earlier this year.
She’d just resigned as the interim director of Acres of Diamonds (she’s still on the board) and was ready to volunteer her energies somewhere else, she explained, so she went to Kim Lisk, then-president of the Chamber, chairperson of the Carnation 4th of July Celebration, and owner of Swim with Kim.
“I said, ‘Hey Kim, there are three things in town that are looking for help. One is the Swiftwater (HOA), one is the Fourth of July, and one is the Carnation Chamber. So where am I most needed?’” McNamara said. “And she said ‘The Carnation Chamber,’ and that’s how I got involved!”
Actually, it’s how she got invested. McNamara was elected president at the first meeting she ever attended of the Chamber. She laughs and says she knew it would happen that way — not because she was a shoo-in, but because she’d talked with Lisk, and because most small organizations struggle to find people willing to commit to greater involvement, and the Chamber had been fairly inactive for several years.
Now, three months into the job, McNamara said she is making a more conscious effort to meet the local business owners and “it’s been really interesting getting to know people.”
There’s a lot more of that ahead for McNamara and the Chamber as a whole, she expects, as they essentially rebuild the organization.
“We want to put into words our value proposition,” McNamara said, and to do that, “I hope to start having conversations at the social, and certainly it requires conversations with the members.”
The social, a free event for members and prospective members June 19 at the Dog Mountain Farm to Table Store, is part of the multi-pronged approach McNamara is using to bring new energy to the Chamber. A new database and a revised Chamber website, due to launch this month will help improve communications, she said, and she hopes to host an educational event this fall, once she find out from the business owners what they’d like to see.
Revitalizing a small Chamber of Commerce seems like an uphill battle, but McNamara is undaunted, and even optimistic.
“There are three or four new businesses in Carnation in the last few months … and that’s really encouraging to see those open up,” she said.
Learn more at http://carnationchamber.com, or stop by the social, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday June 19 at the Dog Mountain Farm to Table Store, previously Sliders, on Tolt Avenue in Carnation.