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Featured Business, March 2023

Pulse of the Valley

The OV Chamber of Commerce’s Special Role in Our Community

Oro Valley is the best of both worlds: a vibrant, full-service town without the grinding sprawl of a big city. With all of OV’s small and regional businesses, it’s still a people town.

“This is a very relational community,” explains Kristin Sharp, President & CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce (OVCC).

The Key to Valley Connections

Ms. Sharp shares anecdotes about business owners who arrive in OV with big city marketing strategies like cold-calling — only to find that these methods fall flat here. Interpersonal connections and introductions are key to doing business in the Valley.

“The OV Chamber offers programs, events, and support to members I have not seen in other chambers,” says Michael Burns, the Managing Director of Red Coyote Services. “More importantly, the membership reciprocates with remarkable participation and support.”

A look at the Chamber Facebook page shows one well-attended event after another, with business owners of every stripe enjoying free primers in real estate and finance (with coffee for morning events, and alcoholic beverages for après-work gatherings.) Ribbon-cuttings for new businesses also serve as excellent opportunities for warm introductions and relationship-building.

The Chamber also keeps its finger on the pulse of the Valley with the help of “OVCC Ambassadors” — active members who share the Chamber’s goal of connecting the local business community.

A Helping Hand During Covid

While many chambers of commerce focus solely on supporting members, the OVCC enjoys a broader perspective of serving the well-being of the Valley as a whole. During the Covid lockdowns, the Chamber partnered with the Town of Oro Valley and stepped up with a 3-tiered approach to help the local business that serve our community.

“We put together three different buckets of funds to help small businesses stay afloat during Covid,” explains Ms. Sharp. “The Town put up the funds, and we [the Chamber] did the legwork of going door-to-door to local businesses — administering funds and collecting receipts.”

Fund #1 served to bolster marketing efforts. For example, if a business had to start offering take-out food or moving off-site, the Chamber provided support for these temporary workarounds.

Fund #2 helped businesses with technology solutions, such as using Zoom for online meetings, or rolling out a new Point-of-Sale (POS) operating system.

Fund #3 supported safety and hygiene. This included air filtration systems, masks, and cleaning materials.

The Chamber also raised over $20,000 so that local businesses could offer grocery cards to employees who were temporarily laid off. The underlying hope was to keep good relations between management and employees so workers might be re-hired once the economy rebounded, while also helping laid-off workers put food on the table.

“We’ve had several business owners say that this support is what made it possible for them to be still open today,” says Ms. Sharp.

A Little Boost Where It Counts

OV commerce has its own unique patterns. By the Summer, the snowbirds have taken flight, and the A.C. cranks on. These are the slowest months for business.

This inspired the Chamber’s “Shop OV” summertime campaign, which focuses on sending customers to local restaurants and shops during the 3-digit temperature months. To help get people into businesses, the Chamber purchases about $5,000 in gift cards each summer and gives them away to the public at random. Many are given out through social media contests as well as at Chamber events.

In Winter, the Chamber purchases more gift cards for everything from local restaurants to massage therapists. At the Town tree-lighting ceremony over the past several years, the Chamber walked around and handed out the gift cards to the public. Ms. Sharp says that the Chamber always has a “big stack” of gift cards sitting around during the summer months (hint, hint).

The Valley Visitor Center

The OV Chamber building at 7435 N. Oracle Rd, Ste. 107 serves as a sort of de facto visitor center for the Valley, with walls lined with brochures, flyers and hiking maps. The three full-time and 1 part-time staff are always happy when community members pay them a visit (don’t forget your business cards!)

The Chamber also carries a popular discount package: the Tucson Attractions Passport for $25. The Passport pays for itself when you purchase a buy-one, get-one-free admission for the Sonoran Desert Museum.

A Growing Resource

The Chamber has recently reached a total of 600 members – a great leap forward from numbers as low as 495 during Covid. But there’s a lot more to the Chamber than signing on members.

“We understand when businesses walk in the door that a membership may not be the right for everyone,” explains Ms. Sharp. “At our core, we want what’s best for the community. If a Chamber membership is not going to meet someone’s needs, then we’re not going to try to sell them one. We may still point them to helpful connections.”

Marilyn Cook, a former member of the Oro Valley Community Foundation board of directors, recently left a bequest of $1MM. The Chamber Foundation is a 501c(3) non-profit that works alongside the OV Chamber to “strengthen the well-being of our community and its citizens by receiving and distributing funds for scholarships, schools, young people, the arts and sciences, people in need, and the business community.”

Partnership with the City Council

The OV Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)(6) non-profit, a special I.R.S. designation for organizations which serve local businesses without taking a profit.

While many chambers have a contentious relationship with the city, the OV Chamber has an excellent working relationship with the town council. This is exemplified by Mayor Joe Winfield’s visits to local business in coordination with the Chamber.

The Chamber enjoys an operating agreement with the Town, which provides an agreement for services provided by OVCC to the community. The Chamber regularly meets and talks with the Mayor and town councilmembers, who are frequent attendees at ribbon-cuttings and other OVCC-sponsored events.

Economic growth and planning are obviously a crucial consideration in an area growing as fast as OV. The Chamber regularly meets with the Community & Economic Development Director. But this is not to say that they support all business expansion regardless of community impacts.

“The Chamber is here to help with the success of the community,” says Ms. Sharp. “A vibrant business community is vital for the overall community to thrive. We think development is essential to the community, but it needs to be done smartly and correctly.”

The Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce
7435 N Oracle Rd., Ste. #107
Oro Valley, AZ 85704

Phone: (520) 297-2191
Facebook page

By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.

 

 

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