The Hood River County Chamber of Commerce has closed its physical location and is in the process of extensive reorganization in the face of a major decline in revenue.
The chamber (HRCCC) and the Visit Hood River Council (VHR) have conducted a multi-month review of the vision, mission, business model, strategic plan, structure and governance of the organization to address the reality of economic challenges facing the business stakeholders and community as a result of COVID-19 impacts, the organization announced in a press release. In developing a clear path for continued success, the board has approved a revised operations plan to manage resources efficiently and effectively, according to Grant Polson, Hood River County Chamber of Commerce chairman of the board.
The organization has named Ashley Huckaby May, former director of Visit Hood River, to serve as the interim director. May said, “HRCCC and VHR have undertaken a detailed review over multiple months to ensure the organization will remain proactive in continuing to deliver upon its vision and mission for Hood River.”
With the decline in key revenue streams, the HRCCC Board and VHR Council have combined to become one united Board of Directors.
The Chamber of Commerce is a 501c6 non-profit association serving the greater Hood River destination. The mission is to inspire and sustain economic vitality and responsible destination development as stewards of community resources in partnership with local leaders.
“As we empathize with the Hood River residents and businesses suffering in this pandemic, COVID has levied a severe hit to HRCCC revenue-generating activities, including large signature events, hotel transient lodging tax collections and membership dues necessary for our programs and operations,” Polson said. “To ensure we are responsible to both our public and private stakeholder partners, we have been required to implement a 50-percent reduction in staff, coupled with a stringent examination of funding for priority programs.”
The combined board will oversee an aligned implementation of economic development and tourism destination marketing and management, according to chamber officials. The organization will realize additional changes in the coming months. The business office and visitor center will move from the long-time location at Port Marina Drive and shift to remote offices and visitor information platforms.
The visitors center was set to close after the Labor Day weekend, and the lease ends Sept. 30.
Visitor information will primarily be online at visithoodriver.com and via phone assistance through the winter months.
“We are exploring options for the return of the visitor information center and will keep the community and businesses updated as they unfold and funding for services secure,” said May, who will serve as interim director through Dec. 31, adding that “updates to chamber leadership, structure and programming will be made available as they are confirmed.”
In a letter to chamber members, May wrote, “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are apparent throughout our community. Financial stress, physical fear and emotional distress have touched all of us on both professional and personal levels. For so many, the two are not mutually exclusive and affect the future of business and community on enormous levels. The Hood River County Chamber/ Visit Hood River have not escaped these realities. While rallying to serve our businesses, partners and community the past five months, we’ve worked tirelessly to balance a 70 percent loss in revenue, due to event cancellations and loss in tourism lodging tax receipts. Unfortunately, the majority of grant funds and pandemic relief funds offered by public and private organizations do not extend to 501c6 organizations.”
Asked what the changes mean for the revival or return of Hops Fest, Cider Fest, Cross Channel, and Blossom Time — all canceled for 2020 — May said, “Events are an integral part of community celebration, off season tourism and chamber funding. Event programming is a priority for the board of directors in the coming months and will be closely examined and considered. We hope to keep the annual events alive for the community.”
Last year, the chamber was reorganized into two distinct arms, with Visit Hood River responsible for the destination marketing and management contract with the City of Hood River.
“Both functions operate under the Hood River County Chamber entity. This distinction was made pre-pandemic to give energy and attention to both functions of the entity,” May said. “At that time funding made this focus and direction possible. The financial impacts of the pandemic to both the transient lodging tax receipts, chamber event revenue and member dues collections have directed the organization scale down on programming and staffing to accommodate budget cuts.”
Additionally, the organization is exploring programming to best serve its stakeholders, she stated. Solicitation of stakeholder feedback is in process via surveys.
May said that a name change for the chamber “is not confirmed and no change has been made at this time.”