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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Chamber of Commerce Announces New Priorities

On Thursday, Jan. 16, the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce announced its priorities for 2014. Last fall, when the Chamber’s Board of Directors first met to consider priorities for this year, they evaluated projects they had pursued in the past and also considered new initiatives. The Board reached a consensus in deciding to focus on membership, tourism and economic growth as the means of improving the community of Grinnell in 2014.

“Our largest initiative in 2013 was our housing initiative … it is very important to a business that they have lots of residents [as potential] customers,” explained Emily Counts, Communications Manager of the Chamber of Commerce.

Therefore, last year the Chamber encouraged the construction of residences, which resulted in 30 housing starts in 2013, compared to 19 in the five years prior to that. Later this year, once those building projects have been completed, the Chamber plans on convening to evaluate the degree of success in meeting their initial goals.

However, the idea of having people working and living in Grinnell extends beyond simply building more homes. This year, the Chamber also plans to revamp Grinnell Connect, an organization intended to help young professionals and newcomers to Grinnell network with one another.

The Chamber additionally intends to continue working with business owners and entrepreneurs to help them strategically locate themselves to better reach their consumer bases. Additionally, new businesses are expected to open up in the spring and replace the storefronts that became vacant in the end of last year, as a couple of businesses have recently closed.

“We’ve got quite a bit of empty space out at the Midtown Center in front of Walmart. So one of our huge goals is to help the landlord there get that filled with more shopping options,” Counts said.

Since the Chamber does not have a very large budget, most of the points outlined are recommendations that they expect local businesses to pursue. According to Craig Cooper, owner of Bikes To You and a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, much of the Chamber of Commerce’s influence lies in setting the agenda and priorities for businesses.

“When it comes to actual brick and mortar type of changes, we’re not the organization that builds that,” Cooper said. “But when it comes to creating a movement or the momentum to help get that done, we are the organization that does that.”

Amidst a “place making” campaign, the Chamber is continuously working to enhance Grinnell’s unique sense of identity, as well, in the interest of attracting more tourists to town. Both Cooper and Counts referred to the new ice skating rink in Central Park, which opened in December of last year, as an example of projects that are intended to change the way people view Grinnell. Apart from the rink, there are only a couple of tourist-friendly attractions in Grinnell open to the public. As a result, many of the exciting things to do in Grinnell are related to events that are going on in town.

Grinnell’s biggest annual tourist attraction, the Grinnell Games, is a prime example of an all-encompassing town event. In 2013 about 1,000 people took part in the Grinnell Games, and the popular sports festival will celebrate its fifth year this June. The Chamber considers the Grinnell Games an excellent means of bringing visitors to Grinnell and not only exploring what the town has to offer, but also supporting the local business during their stay.

“We’re continuing to concentrate on growing Grinnell Games as Iowa’s family sports festival,” Counts said. “It’s won a couple of tourism awards in the past, but we’re really focused on building that participation base.”

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