Over a year after the Montrose Chamber of Commerce dissolved in April 2019, a new chamber is forming in Montrose.
A group of local business leaders, headed by Our Town Matters CEO Tonya Maddox, announced the formation of the “Greater Montrose Area Chamber of Commerce,” set to launch on Oct. 1 following weeks of decision making by the board of directors on who to assign for specific roles, as well as identifying membership levels and benefits.
The board consists of 12 local business leaders, with the potential to add more:
• Tracy Baldwin, U.S. Bank;
• John Bullington, Rose Bowl Entertainment Center;
• Tony Driskill, Cherry Creek Media;
• Jaimee Carnes, Elderado Financial;
• Sue Frank, TEI Rock Drills;
• Theresa Leben, Welcome Western Colorado;
• Kathy McKie, Delta-Montrose Electric Association;
• Maddox, Our Town Matters;
• Selvin Sandoval, Sandoval Construction;
• Megan Wilson, Shelter Insurance;
• Sheree Wanner, Camelot Gardens;
• Bud Taylor, Black Canyon Boys & Girls Club.
The inaugural board members are set to serve from Oct. 1 — Dec. 31, 2021.
According to Maddox, no decision has been made on who will head the chamber, because that position will be voted on over the next few weeks. Depending on how the voting goes, it’s possible an interim director will be named and that future funds will be used to find a permanent executive director.
Also, it’s likely membership will be split into three tiers, each for a specific organization: small, locally owned businesses, nonprofits and large entities. Services and benefits provided will pertain to each tier.
According to a Montrose Daily Press article last year, the 130-year-old Montrose Chamber dissolved last year largely due to finances from a drop in membership, and instability (four directors in four years).
The trend was visible in 2017. According to a filed 990 tax report from 2017 from the Montrose Chamber of Commerce, the chamber’s expenses ($197,322) — salaries and other expenses — surpassed its total revenue ($177,359), placing the organization in the red by -$19,963.
Though memberships from the board of directors and community businesses will fund the commerce at the start, the new chamber won’t entirely adopt the previous model.
“We’re not trying to adopt that model,” Maddox said. “The biggest difference is we are not trying to make a budget work. We’re trying to make a budget based on the memberships that we have.”
Since the new chamber won’t have to pay certain salaries, or issue building payments, it won’t find itself working to pay large expenses, Maddox said. Rather, the chamber can take its time building up membership.
Chelsea Rosty, director of business and tourism for the City of Montrose, and former executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce, said the city “will never be against” locals in the community trying to improve the business community, but as of now, the city currently does not have plans to help fund the new chamber as it believes it has “innovated past [needing a chamber].”
“Our perspective on it is unless we missed something, the services our businesses need in the community already exist,” she said. “Right now, we don’t think we need to fund a redundant service.
“The City of Montrose is really in tune with business development and community development. The city has the funding to invest in diversification and provide support to businesses.”
Region 10 in Montrose, a small business development center with education, funding and consulting for small businesses, and the evolution of social networking are some examples of the resources a chamber provides that are already present in the community, Rosty said.
Also, Proximity Montrose, a coworking space, when operating normally outside of a pandemic, has a community manager who organizes events and entrepreneurial meet-ups for small businesses owners, which creates a networking streamline and allows local business leaders to meet new people.
Although Rosty feels the local government in Montrose has been “really accessible to businesses and often advocates for business,” she also said there can never be too much advocacy for the business community.
Rosty cited the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce as a chamber that’s innovated toward creating a start-up community and puts together early-stage founders so they can find their way as successful business owners in the community.
“There would be value in that because [Montrose] doesn’t have an incubator or something for early businesses to get their business off the ground,” she said.
In terms of advocacy, Maddox cited the COVID-19 pandemic and businesses having to sift through paperwork to receive a form of assistance as a reason a chamber is needed — business leaders could possibly interpret the paperwork in their own way, and with their busy schedules, find it difficult to navigate through completely.
“It became a daunting process for businesses,” Maddox said.
The new chamber hopes to act as a “collective voice” for locally owned and operated businesses while helping with visibility within the community and economic development.
Rosty said it’s possible the city’s stance could change later in the year, and the city “wishes [the chamber] the best and will support anything that is good for business.” Rosty added she wants the chamber to be successful and hopes members and founders can get some value from the endeavor.
Waste Management of Colorado quickly gave the new commerce notice the company would support the group with a membership. When reached out to discuss the decision, the company declined to comment.
Community Options in Montrose was a member of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce for decades. As for joining the new chamber, the organization would welcome the opportunity, said Tom Turner, executive director at Community Options.
“I think it’s important to support local businesses, and we are one of the largest non-governmental employers in the area, and we have a large impact on the economy for the area,” Turner said.
At the moment, Turner hasn’t heard more about it and hasn’t reached out for membership opportunities, but was excited to hear about a new chamber that could help the local business community even further with all the other resources already available.
“I think it’s very sad that our community has not had one,” Turner said.
Sandy Head, executive director of the Montrose Economic Development Corporation, said if she was still in private business, she would “definitely” join the chamber.
“I think we need a chamber. I applaud those who are starting it and those who are willing to serve as founding board members,” Head said.
“I’ve always felt a community our size needs a chamber of commerce. When you look at Grand Junction [Chamber] and how it flourishes, this one could flourish because it is going to be restructured.”
DMEA Chief Operating Officer Virginia Harmon said the organization was approached to see if it was interested in filling a board seat. As former chamber members and significant chamber event sponsors, the decision was easy.
"We always like to be involved with our local community," Harmon said. "We were asked and we decided we would.. we hope that it's successful. It's something most communities need."
The former owner of The Ginger Cat on East Main, Leslie Triesch, said she had tried to stay open, but had to close down the store. She’s renewed her real estate license, but said she’s interested in being part of the chamber.
A pair of the founding board members shared their thoughts on being part of the new chamber.
“I was pleased and proud to be asked to serve on the board for the new Greater Montrose Area Chamber Of Commerce. I believe it’s vital that people who share a common goal — the growth of our local businesses — pitch in with their time and talents. I’m very impressed with the group of folks that’ve been brought together in this most worthwhile endeavor,” Driskill said.
“I agreed to be on the chamber board because I would like to be a voice and advocate for the local business community. I grew up in Montrose and supporting local business is ingrained into who I am. I see being on the chamber board as a great way to give back to our local business owners for all that they do for our community,” Carnes said.
Maddox said as soon as membership rates are released, she anticipates the chamber will welcome in at least 25 businesses to the fold. Also, all branding will be donated to the new chamber, meaning Our Town Matters, which plans to handle the power players luncheon early next year, will lose all revenue and income associated with the luncheon.