Bridging the gap
Chamber builds on 100 years of progress
“The chamber was officially formed in 1917. Prior to that there was a group of gentlemen that acted like a chamber. They were in effect for a couple of years and then disbanded, said Deb Brown, Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce Director. “Then a group decided to form the chamber. One of the biggest goals was doing business with each other.”
The chamber has grown to 184 members, 20 associate members, and businesses and industries throughout the Hamilton County and Fort Dodge area. Members include general businesses; professional services including dentists, chiropractors, realtors, physicians, attorneys, veterinarians, and insurance; non-profit organizations including social organizations, churches, and government; home-based businesses, and associate members. When Brown came to Webster City four years ago, there were only 140 chamber members.
“We’ve become pretty active in the community in sharing news about our businesses in unique and fun ways. From cardboard regattas to RVTV to JunqueFest to Music in the Park,” said Brown. “It takes members to put it together and make it happen. Anytime we can get the community to come together and enjoy each other’s company, it’s always a benefit for our small businesses. I believe we should try things.”
The cost to be a chamber member varies depending on what type of chamber member a business is. Annual dues range anywhere from $52 to $690 depending on what type of member you are and how many employees are retained.
“Dues are important to keep the chamber running, but so are the connections and the willingness to work together and the events and activities to bring the community together as well,” Brown said. “All those things matter.”
Belonging to the chamber provides many benefits for both businesses and the community, according to Brown.
“We represent small business,” Brown said.
The chamber offers a variety of services including an activities guide with a listing of events and activities going on in the area, a weekly Chamber Chatter newsletter, business newsletter for chamber members, and also puts on fun events for the whole community to take part in.
“We do events like Sip ‘N Stroll and JunqueFest and Ladies Night Out, which helps to bring attention to our businesses in town,” said Brown. “Ribbon cuttings, open houses, after-hours, whatever we can do, we do to bring our membership to the forefront. We host quarterly coffees where you can network with your peers in the community and hear what businesses are doing, how they’re growing or moving, or have new employees.”
The chamber also uses social media and other forms of communication to inform the pubic about what is happening in Webster City and the surrounding areas.
“We share the news of the community in many ways: blogs, articles in the paper, the radio, speaking engagements around the U.S., we visit the Hill in Des Moines, our active chamber members talk about it when they visit other communities and do business out of town, even when though go on vacation,” Brown said.
The chamber also reserves a certain amount of money each year for new businesses who wish to upgrade their building facades.
“Your local chamber has design grants. Every year we put $2,000 into a fund for building facade design grants. The grant has already been taken advantage of by three different parties this year,” Brown said. “We also offer low-interest gap financing, low-interest revolving loan funds. So if someone were to start a new business and buy a building and the bank finances 85 percent of it, we can help on the back end.”
“Belonging to the chamber’s more than just what the chamber can do for your business, it also means its a two-way street. We want you to work with us so we can better serve you,” Brown said. “It also involves what the chamber can do for the entire community, and what that means for businesses, if your community is stagnant and not growing, then your business will stop growing too.”
“I serve at the pleasure of my board,” said Brown. “They guide and we follow.”
Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce board members include: President Jake Pulis, Vice President Lynn McKinney, Treasurer Karla Wetzler, Zach Chizek, Mark Fergeson, Sarah Kopriva, Tina Poland, Matt Shannon, Zach Sukraw, and Kristen Williams.
“It’s important that people outside our community realize that Webster City is the place to live, work and play,” Brown said. “There’s a saying: If it’s a nice town to visit, it’s probably a nice town to live in.”
Brown knocked down a few misconceptions that are often associated with the chamber.
“People think we belong to the city, and we do not. We are an independent member-based organization,” said Brown. “We work very closely with the city. They’re our largest member.”
Another misconception is that the chamber only promotes businesses.
“It’s the business community and environment that is important,” Brown said. “It’s the individual members, the retired members, it’s the home-based businesses, it’s the community itself, it’s the people who stop here and buy tickets to events. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Brown is always thinking of new ways to bring people to Webster City. Whether it be for events, shopping, or business needs.
“We’re currently working on downtown revitalization and mark my words, there is a lot coming up,” Brown said. “I think given where this community is at, the next two years are going to be vital and we’re going to see a lot of growth.”
“No matter the size of your business, we want you to be a part of the chamber,” Brown said. “You could be big or small…everybody matters.”