As the Camp Verde Business Alliance explores the prospect of re-establishing a chamber of commerce, there needs to be a realistic understanding of what makes small-town chambers tick.
First and foremost, those that thrive do so because of well-established partnerships that provide essential funding for the organization. Locally, the most obvious cases in point are the Cottonwood and Sedona chambers. Both benefit greatly thanks to annual subsidies derived from the municipal lodging tax in both communities.
Even with a small chamber of commerce like the one in Jerome, there is still a key relationship with the town government that sees Jerome Town Hall pay certain expenses on the chamber’s behalf for things that benefit the town, such as the weekend shuttle driver, and that is done with lodging-tax funds that by law must be dedicated to the promotion of tourism.
Ditto for Clarkdale. While the Clarkdale chamber closed its doors in 2010, it has since been replaced by a vibrant all-volunteer Downtown Business Alliance that this year will receive as much as $4,000 from the town to help defray expenses provided by the town government.
In Camp Verde’s case, establishing a chamber of commerce would represent a return to the past. Camp Verde has had a chamber of commerce before. In fact, there was a chamber of commerce in Camp Verde as far back as 1981. It predated municipal incorporation and in its earliest incarnation served as a quasi-Town Hall and Tourism Information Center rolled into one thanks to a tireless ball of energy named Liane Nash.
It once had as many as 150 members and a relationship with the fledgling municipal government that saw the town provide the chamber with office space and an annual subsidy.
Camp Verde’s financial support for its chamber never rivaled the kind of money seen in Sedona and Cottonwood, but it was still essential to the organization’s success.
The undoing of Camp Verde’s chamber not so surprisingly came about during America’s “great recession” that began in about 2007. Commerce is an essential ingredient to a chamber and closing storefronts in the town represented nails in the coffin for the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce.
Adding to that was a decision by the Camp Verde Town Council in 2011 to discontinue its fiscal relationship with the chamber and instead establish its own Economic Development Department.
The Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce subsequently folded its tent in 2014. There was a brief effort to resurrect the organization a year later, but with less than 10 members it was an exercise in futility.
As was the case in Clarkdale, the demise of Camp Verde’s chamber of commerce saw a local business alliance organization take form.
All of which brings Camp Verde back to square one, re-establishing the community’s chamber of commerce.
As those discussions move forward, sooner or later the ball is going to bounce back into the court of the Camp Verde Town Council. As stated above, small-town chambers of commerce live and die based on their relationships with local government.
It all boils down to money.
So while it’s encouraging to see the Camp Verde Business Alliance champion the idea of growing into a chamber of commerce, ultimately the town council likewise will need to weigh in on this one.