By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
Following a year that posed large financial challenges, Caledonia Area Chamber of Commerce President Karen Ness is looking for bigger and better things for 2012.
The local chamber of commerce was saddled with a hefty monthly lease payment on the building the organization had rented for a number of years at 214 East Main Street.
When the chamber shared the Main Street building with the Houston County Ag Society and also Historic Bluff Country, the $500 per month payment was divvied up between the three organizations.
Two years ago Historic Bluff Country pulled out and the monthly rent payment, shared by the two remaining organizations, was still manageable.
But last winter when the Houston County Ag Society decided to move out of the building and to the fair grounds, the monthly rent payment put a real strain on the chamber. They tried unsuccessfully to find another business, organization or individual to share the rent. The chamber board decided to look for a new home.
That new home was right across the street in a small office on the second floor of City Hall next to the city library. While the office is small, the price was right…$50 a month. So instead of budgeting for $6,000 a year for rent, the chamber will be looking at $600 a year.
“This will make such a big difference for us,” Ness said. “Without that large monthly rent payment, we will be able to do so many more things to promote area businesses.”
Businesses located throughout the Caledonia Area School District, which includes the communities of Caledonia, Brownsville, Eitzen and Freeburg and the surrounding townships, received a questionnaire from the chamber this week.
The survey asks if the business is a member or not. If the answer is “no,” they are asked “why not?” The survey also asks what types of expectations the business might have of what the chamber can do, likes or dislikes of what the chamber has been doing and suggestions for new promotions and events.
Ness noted that the chamber’s membership has been holding steady at about 80 paid memberships each year. The chamber offers four different memberships. They include: business for $175, a home-based service for $75, a non-profit business for $75 and an individual membership for $50.
To help recruit new members, the chamber will wave the first year membership dues.
The chamber has a part-time office manager, Lori Klug, who staffs the office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.
Current chamber board members include Ness, Julia Crawford- vice president, Lloyd Swalve- secretary, Dianne Schuldt- treasurer and directors Jane Palen, Eric Halverson and Carla Gavin.
Some of the events and promotions the chamber has been conducting include a late winter bowling tournament, summer golf tournament, spring and fall city-wide garage sales, the Explore Caledonia business promotion, the Bluff & Valley Hot Air Balloon Rally in December and partnering with the Caledonia Pool Improvement Project.
The chamber meets the second Wednesday morning of each month from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. While they have been moving from spot to spot since they moved out of their former office, Ness said Vinod Patel, owner of the former AmericInn (now the Caledonia Inn Lodge and Suites) has offered his conference room, complete with coffee and rolls, for the monthly meetings.
Starting in February, the meeting time will be moved back a half hour and will begin at 8 a.m.
“Once we’ve gotten the surveys back, we will be conducting a follow up,” Ness noted. “We want people to know that we reviewed what they said and will take those recommendations to heart.
“We really feel we will be able to do much more, now that our operating expenses are more manageable. I am excited for the new year,” Ness added.
You can contact Charlie Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org