Town officials from Marana and Oro Valley both say the tens of thousands of dollars they pay to be members of their local chambers of commerce pay off in business the organizations drive into the communities.
Oro Valley spends $30,000 on the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, which has an annual budget of about $267,000. As part of an agreement between the town and chamber, Oro Valley employees do not pay for seats at chamber events.
Marana spends $40,000 on the Marana Chamber of Commerce, which has a $377,000 annual budget. The town spent $2,660 in 2013 paying for town employees’ seats at chamber events. The Star obtained the latter figure in a public records request.
When told that Marana spends significantly more on chamber costs than Oro Valley, Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said he’s satisfied with the expenditure because the Marana chamber operates the Marana Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, which he said serves as a tourism beacon.
Davidson also lauded the chamber’s efforts in growing the town’s economy.
“I think there are several things that add tremendous value to that partnership,” Davidson said. “The chamber is engaged in what’s going on in the local community and the local government. It helps make sure the business community is going in the right direction.
“It’s the business community that ultimately pays the bills, through collection of sales tax. It funds the operations of streetlights and parks and police departments. The Marana Chamber of Commerce is the foundation of that strategic plan of a healthy, active, growing business community.”
The chambers of commerce are independent organizations that try to drive the economies of their respective towns, working closely with the governments in partnerships.
The Oro Valley chamber has two full-timers and 402 business members. The Marana chamber, with three full-time employees and two part-timers, has 550 members.
Ed Stolmaker, the Marana chamber’s president and CEO, said he appreciates the town’s support but is building the organization to no longer need government aid.
“I think it’s important to be self-sufficient, and we need to be,” Stolmaker said. “I’m just glad to have the town help and support us during these years.”
Dave Perry, president and CEO of the Oro Valley chamber, said he runs the organization intending to “underpromise and overdeliver” on the town’s investment. He and Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath both pointed to the Shop Oro Valley program as one of the major fruits of their partnership. The town and chamber sell “OV Dollars” that work as currency at participating local businesses. A recent holiday campaign racked up $79,000 in local business revenue.
“My critics will say, ‘What does the town get out of the chamber that’s really sort of measurable?’ I can point to the OV Dollars program,” Perry said. “A lot of what we do is hard to measure. You have to meet with business leaders, be supportive of them and hope they’ll come. It’s hard to quantify that sort of value.”
Hiremath anticipates that the town will invest more in the chamber in coming years.
“I see that number eventually going up as we see more and more of a stronger link of support,” he said, referring to the amount Oro Valley spends on the chamber. “The local Chamber of Commerce and the impact small businesses are going to have in sales taxes, you generally do see that number going up. The chamber is a unified, equal partner, and its contribution really is immeasurable.”