Poulsbo chamber banking on drive to restore membership

POULSBO — The Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce is facing a financial shortfall after its membership significantly declined in 2010.

The organization is cutting costs and planning a membership drive to shore up several thousand dollars, said Board President Linda Lincoln.

Seventy-three businesses ended their memberships at the chamber this year. The chamber began the year with 434 members, and now has 418, which includes 57 new members who signed on during 2010, Lincoln said.

Lincoln expects the chamber to be between $5,000 and $10,000 short at the end of 2010. The chamber operates on a budget of about $240,000.

She said the membership decline is "directly related" to the down economy.

"When the economy hits some of the first things businesses do is reevaluate expenditures," Lincoln said.

At least 15 percent of those who left the chamber also closed their businesses, said Chamber Executive Director Adele Heinrich. She said the effects of the recession became most prevalent this year.

"Last year I feel like it kind of went around us, the problem with the economy. And this year we've been hit with it," she said.

The financial shortage has affected some chamber operations.

Funds aren't available to replace equipment, and the chamber has already switched to a digital newsletter instead of a printed version. It has also dipped into its reserve funds, Lincoln said.

Lincoln also expects to receive only about $49,000 of a planned $55,000 in lodging tax funding, which is given to a coalition of local event planners and is facilitated by the chamber. Because of that decrease, some advertising has been curbed or even cancelled.

City Finance Director Debbie Booher said the cut in lodging tax revenue isn't definite, but could occur because like many tax streams, those funds are coming in at lower levels than in years past.

Heinrich is encouraging businesses to take advantage of the chamber's payment plans, which make dues more manageable, she said. Annual chamber membership costs vary depending on the size of a business, and could range from $140 to $700.

Members benefit from ribbon cuttings, open houses and event promotions planned by the chamber, as well as special advertising opportunities.

"That's what we're here for, is to get the word out for our members," Heinrich said.

The chamber runs Poulsbo's Americana Music Festival and puts out the Poulsbo Community Guide and Poulsbo Map. It has two employees and a handful of office volunteers.

Lincoln said chambers provide a boon to tourism and a community business voice. The chamber's membership drive will be held Oct. 28. The chamber board is aiming for 40 to 100 new members, boosting membership by 10 to 20 percent, Lincoln said.

"Hopefully that will encourage people to get charged up, get committed," she said.

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