The more things change in Grass Valley, the more they stay the same. The “changes” at the “new” Nevada County/Grass Valley Chamber are certainly worth pondering in our community if you care about real progress.
First the County decided to turn the county’s tourism initiative over to the Economic Resource Council, not the Chambers of Commerce (which benefited from the county money but never quite stood on their own two feet as a business advocacy group sustained by dues paying members). Now they’re squarely back in the tourism game, however, raising questions about they’ll collaborate — or clash — with ongoing ERC successes.
This was an open and transparent RFP process at the Rood Center last year for the tourism contract; the Chamber declined to participate (at least at the time).
To many people, the county money had really been a financial “crutch” that confused the Chambers’ chief mission: evangelizing business advocacy, signing up new members and becoming self sustainable. It’s a cool (and needed) goal in our community, at least in my mind. A lot of businesses — large and small — could use this help.
Then the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber changed leadership, opening the door for it to become a bona fide business advocacy group, standing alone with a growing base of dues-paying members and an invigorated, innovative mission.
Think of all the non-downtown businesses they could sign up; the Grass Valley Downtown Association already does a good job serving the downtown — and it’s their legal mission as a “business improvement district.” But this meant the Chamber — for its part — had to develop a new and exciting suite of services to sell to the business community, not just rely on the county funding for tourism.
But look what happened:
Instead of the County, the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber just turned to the City of Grass Valley for some money (now more financially robust from a newly passed sales tax initiative), and the Council happily went along.
Longtime local politico Patti Ingram Spencer helped secure $60,000 from the City of Grass Valley ($30K per year over two years) for “tourism support services,” (in fact, the same role that the county handed over to the ERC). You can read the document here. It received scant attention in the media.
The Grass Valley City Council unanimously passed the plan at its pre-Christmas meeting. (Mayor Dan Miller, for one, has been one of Patti’s longtime friends and allies for decades).
Then guess what happened? Keith Davies, and his wife, Robyn, became the new leaders of the Grass Valley Chamber. Davies is a fourth-generation Nevada County resident. His proposal for a destination resort in our county cited Miller as a “good friend since high school.” I don’t know if there was an RFP process for this job, but it wasn’t visible or transparent.
You can read about Keith’s plan for the Grand Sierra Resort here. It was met with some anxiety in the town (including the existing hoteliers and B&B owners) because of its risky “if you build it, they will come” mindset. Since then, Keith has backed off his “modest proposal.”
The Visitors Center has moved too — twice in less than a few months and only a block away. The new landlord is a longtime ally of the Contractors’ Association PAC (political action committee).
What’s going to be different about this “new” chamber?
•Some people think there’s a political agenda in play: to build a base that includes getting Dan Miller elected to the county board of supervisors, replacing Terry Lamphier. Terry’s upset of John Spencer (Patti’s husband) did not sit well with the “old guard” politicos.
•Others think it’s to win support for the “tabled” destination resort plan — touted as a way to bring jobs to town.
•Others worry the Chamber will clash, not collaborate, when it comes to tourism and event planning, seeking to subsume the ERC and GVDA efforts.
•As for a business advocacy strategy and membership drive, I have yet to hear about that — only the $60,000 award from the city.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
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