Basalt chamber adjusts its sights and sites in strategic plan overhaul
The Basalt Chamber of Commerce has overhauled its focus to develop and sustain businesses rather than just host special events, leaders said Monday.
The chamber has used two $4,000 grants to help carve out its new direction. One grant will be used to create a co-working space for small-business operators and entrepreneurs who don’t have traditional office space.
The second grant is being used to create a cohesive “brand” for Basalt that can be used by the chamber, town government, tourism marketers and businesses recruiting employees.
The two initiatives are closely related outcomes of the chamber’s new strategic plan developed over the past year.
“It’s a whole move to professionalize what the chamber is doing and to really refocus back on dealing with business issues, dealing with economic development issues,” said Betina Infante, a member of the chamber’s board of directors. “And one of the issues that comes up is this need for space for small businesses.”
The chamber has leased space at 208 Midland Ave. in the heart of downtown for the co-working space. About 1,500 square feet will be available for shared offices and meeting space.
It will be able to accommodate between 20 and 30 workers — depending on the design — and uas many as 45 people for special events, according to chamber Executive Director Kris Mattera. There will be a drop-in rate and punch pass for people to tap into internet service, phones, meeting space and other infrastructure. Networking will be a big advantage of the shared space, Mattera said.
Chamber board chairwoman Amanda Wagner said the co-working center would help establish Basalt as a place that incubates business without requiring a big commitment to leasing expensive office space.
“This is for the people who can’t afford that $100 to $150 to $300 per square foot office space,” she said. “This gives them the opportunity to come and utilize space. It allows them to figure out their strategy for their business and gives them a nice work environment.”
Chambers of commerce throughout the valley are establishing co-working space and towns across the country are reaching out to help small business operators, the Basalt chamber leaders said. Basalt is embracing the role.
“I think historically there’s been a lot of missed opportunities of businesses being able to work in Basalt,” Wagner said. “We know that Willits is extremely expensive and out of the question for a lot of businesses, so we want to make Basalt that place where people want to come to work and live and play and be sustainable. We don’t want these businesses coming in and out and churning through. We want them to be here to stay and be sustainable.”
Mattera said the goal is to open the center in the next two months. Details such as rates and even the name are being withheld until the chamber is ready to make a splash with the opening. The co-working center was made possible by a favorable lease from building owner the Romero Group.
The chamber’s updated strategy also stresses getting involved in “issues businesses are concerned with,” Infante said. The big three are health insurance, broadband service and workforce issues such as housing and employee retention. It’s working on issues individually and with other chambers in the valley.
The chamber officials view the updating of Basalt’s “brand” as a big part of the organization’s refocus. Chamber officials are working with consultants on a logo and tagline that can be used by everyone from the town government to nonprofit and individual businesses in their messaging about Basalt.
“The branding is looking at Basalt as a destination not just from a tourism marketing standpoint but also from a business development standpoint,” Mattera said.
Again, chamber officials were close-lipped about specifics of the branding because they want to make a splash with an unveiling before the end of August.
Mattera pointed to two towns across the Continental Divide as doing a great job of immersing themselves in branding efforts. Buena Vista and Salida have embraced river-oriented branding. Basalt may follow suit.
“If we’re all about our rivers, how are we incorporating that more into a sense of place?” Mattera asked, perhaps foreshadowing Basalt’s brand.
Wagner said the goal is to create branding that will be embraced by the all the neighborhoods of Basalt — downtown, Southside, Willits — as well as midvalley areas outside the town boundaries such as El Jebel and the Tree Farm. Projecting the image of a unified area will benefit all, she said.
The chamber will reduce its role in planning and staffing events.
“We’ve done a lot to promote Basalt in the past,” Infante noted. But the current seven members of the board of directors agreed on a refocused role for the chamber, which has a steady membership of about 430.
“Do we want to be a chamber of events or a chamber of commerce?” Wagner said.
The chamber continues to sponsor the Wednesday night concert series but defers to the experts at The Arts Center at Willits for booking the acts. It also will continue to sponsor events like last Saturday’s Basalsa, which celebrated Basalt’s melding of cultures. It also will support and market members’ events, Mattera said.
A reduced role hosting events shouldn’t be confused with reduced marketing. Driving tourism spending — focused on repeat visitors — remains a core part of the chamber’s strategy, Mattera said.
The chamber’s refocused direction will be highlighted at the annual membership meeting in October.
Mattera has moved her office to the co-working center, but the chamber will continue to keep a presence in the little red caboose, the iconic symbol of the former railroad town that greets people at Lions Park. Mattera said the caboose will be more of a tourist information center and less administrative office.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.