Chamber looks to find ways to help community

Photo by Trey Spaulding

MONTE VISTA-The Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce held their monthly meeting via Zoom last Thursday, April 30, to give updates on what the Chamber has been doing through the stay-at-home order and “safer-at home” phases and to brainstorm how to continue to help local businesses and the community focus on economic recovery.


Chamber President Linda Burnett stated she, along with Chamber Board members Gary and Jerene Wilkinson and Chamber Staff Jerry Apker and Leo Wilde have been meriting weekly (virtually) on Tuesdays to discuss the Chamber’s finances and progress. The Chamber has received numerous membership renewals and refunded vendors who had paid for booth space at the Home, Garden and Outdoor Living expo. When asked, Burnett stated they did not think it was practical to reschedule the expo because of the uncertainty about when groups can gather, and those anticipated dates later in the summer would start to crowd other events like the Ski-Hi Stampede and San Luis Valley Fair.


Burnett relayed the Ski-Hi Stampede committee would try to have a decision made about the feasibility of the 2020 event by mid-May, and she has also spoken with Marvin Reynolds with the CSU Extension Office/4H, who are also taking their plans for the fair week-by-week, and may explore ways to hold some of the events virtually, if needed. Gary Wilkinson also relayed the Friends of Ski-Hi will meet in May to determine the future of the renovation project, as many of their potential funders are postponing awards, although the good news was they exceeded their 30 percent goal by three percent to raise the funds needed to apply for the Gates Foundation grant.
Wilkinson reported the Monte Vista School District is anticipating a hard hit from the state’s lack of funding because of COVID-19 closures, and is currently looking at roughly a 10 percent budget cut for the next school year, a sentiment that Public Works Director Rob Vance echoed will be a struggle shared by the City of Monte Vista as well because of the drop in local sales tax revenue. Wanda Hawman reported the Jessie May Olson Memorial Community Garden is operating in a mostly normal way, with volunteers practicing social distancing.


The attendees then discussed ways in which they can help local businesses and what to expect from the coming tourism season. Rio Grande County Commissioner Gene Glover stated the county is allowing local campgrounds to open after May 15 and stated because Rio Grande Hospital is not accepting COVID-19 cases for admission, they are being admitted at San Luis Valley Health in Alamosa instead, he believes the county can handle the impact of tourists under a “slow-in” model, but stated it can always be rescinded if it becomes necessary to do so.


Ken Hamko with the Sandhill Inn and Suites has been attending virtual meetings with the SLV Task Force; originally formed from banks to help businesses apply for loans, but it has “morphed into more than that.” Hamko encouraged the Chamber “…what we do as an organization is to help businesses get going again when this is over…there are lots of groups saying ‘how do we survive?’ instead of ‘how do we help businesses get restarted?’…collectively I think we could have that answer if we get ideas from everybody.”


Wilkinson and Monte Vista City Councilor Martha Lock advocated for virtual auctions or vendor expos, where local businesses could display their products for sale online to customers who are not comfortable shopping in person yet, citing the success of a similar auction in Salida and one done by Lock’s company as well. Lock pointed out connecting electronically can “have a tangible impact.” She also cited numerous examples of community organizations coming together to meet needs almost as soon as they are requested, like an organization in Crestone who provided masks to law enforcement officers.


All attendees agreed they needed to get specifics from local businesses on what their needs or anticipated barriers to reopening are, so the Chamber can find ways to meet those needs or ease those barriers. Burnett also stated the Chambers around the San Luis Valley should connect with one another, to make sure resources are being used efficiently. Wilde volunteered to start calling local businesses personally, even if she has “to go through the phone book” with Hamko joking “there’s still a phone book?”


Attendees volunteered to check-in weekly via the Tuesday morning Zoom meetings to present what information they have heard from local businesses and report on any resources they have found to help meet these needs. Hamko pointed out the role of the chamber should be to go through what is presented and be a central information source of productive resources.


Hamko also stated they would be extending voting for the “Swoop of the Cranes” project, because an announcement of winners now would not bring the excitement and positivity for the artists and sponsors the project has designed to do. If needed, Hamko stated they can also look a silent auction or online auction site to sell the Cranes in September. 

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