MONTE VISTA—The Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce hosted a lunch Thursday afternoon, June 29 to promote coordination and cooperation between chambers throughout the San Luis Valley and to keep up on the progress made with the Valley-wide Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for economic development. Attendees included Jim Clare, Jim Poston, Linda Burnett, Wanda Hawman, Maria Aguilar, Gary Wilkinson, Jeff Hartman and Kay Harmon with the Monte Vista Chamber, Joe McCarn and James Stevens with the South Fork Chamber, Adrienne Atencio with the Del Norte Chamber, Louise Colville with the Rio Grande County Museum, Theo Boudreaux with the Saguache County Tourism Board, Carita Ginn and Barry Van Sant with the Saguache Chamber and Theresa Stevens and Randy Wright with the Alamosa Chamber.
Jim Clare with the Monte Vista Chamber opened the events by explaining it was his and Alamosa Chamber Randy Wright’s idea to create a MOU between chambers to promote each other’s events, coordinate and to be members of each other’s chambers. Clare mentioned he is also working on plans to host a major conference in 2019 in the San Luis Valley but in order to do so, the Valley must be marketed as not only a good place for the conference itself but as a family vacation destination for the attendees’ families, with events and activities available. Wright agreed, telling attendees he had been working with an economic developer in trainings, and developer trainers will not work with the Valley unless they know the individual towns are working together cooperatively. “This does not mean we’re not going to compete against each other, it means we’re not going to bad mouth each other while we’re doing it.”
Wright stated the county commissioners were so far unwilling to sign the joint code of ethics on behalf of their counties. Clare added the purpose behind the MOU and the code of ethics is for the promotion of the area as a whole and “If you hear something that won’t work in your town, but will work well in other places…communicate.”
Communication was a major theme with Monte Vista Chamber’s Linda Burnett, noting it’s difficult to schedule events without knowing where other events are in the planning stages and if they have dates picked out. Avoiding conflicting scheduling “might work, it might not” she said, but making the best effort to make the Valley stronger is key. Wright added, currently there are many places to go for information. Throughout the meeting attendees discussed ideas for a central, Valley-wide events calendar website. Clare asked attendees to discuss some of the successes each chamber has had, what events have been successful for them and what they would like to see in the future.
Rio Grande County Museum representative Louise Colville stated the museum’s most successful event is usually the Ice Cream Social with Covered Wagon Days, and although they have struggled with coordinating such a large event alone, she remarked the community expects it of them and it is a good source of donations. They serve between 250 and 300 people. She also stated the museum’s focus on different cultures that have shaped the Valley has been positive, and she hopes to make it a larger effort throughout the town of Del Norte and Rio Grande County. Colville agreed a comprehensive event list would be helpful because the museum makes many referrals and directions for tourists. Clare added the Antique Iron Club is also going to do their main summer event with Covered Wagon Days and began a consensus about how successful the growing weekend’s events are.
James Stevens stated the South Fork Chamber of Commerce is currently working on reorganizing and feels their biggest fault has been a breakdown in communications. Stevens stated for example he is personally not a big fan of the 3rd of July celebration instead of the fourth but the chamber has been willing to work with it regardless. Upcoming events include Logger Days and the Rhythms on the Rio Festival. Stevens encouraged other chambers to take a lesson he had learned in South Fork, “If you don’t expect them [chamber members] to do anything, they won’t. You have to keep your expectations clear.” Joe McCarn added Constant Contact, which is free to chambers and offers a 25 percent discount to chamber members, has been vital in their development.
Jim Poston stated “The Monte Vista Chamber has really turned a corner” and they are better working together within the chamber. Poston also discussed his work with Locomotive 463, which started as “a basket full of parts” and their successes with the project is just one example of how coordination and cooperation can lead to a successful end result.
Carita Ginn stated Saguache has the Hollyhock Festival, the Art Festival and the Fall Festival coming up, but they have been successful at coordinating with events that are not put on by the chamber as well including the county museum events, the Pow-Wow, the Chocolate Festival and the Holiday Bazaar when everyone does their part. Barry Van Sant added this year is the 10th anniversary of the Saguache Chamber since they restarted and rebuilt it in conjunction with the downtown revitalization efforts. Despite being the poorest county of people represented at the meeting, the chamber has become a grassroots community organization, charging only $25 for membership and being proactive through their annual planning conference. The conference “encourages de-conflicting events and promoting the town.” “285 is a valuable corridor,” Van Sant added, noting tourists, truckers, ranchers and more go through every day. Van Sant also stressed the importance of using local media outlets like SLV Lifestyles and the Saguache Crescent to maximize the sharing of information.
Theo Boudreaux with the Saguache County Tourism Board, added his recent conference at Joyful Journey Hot Springs was not as well attended as he had hoped, so hopefully better coordination and advertising would help in future years. Boudreaux stated wintertime events could use more attention and advertising throughout the Valley but also in Saguache County, and relayed how the three hot springs on Highway 17 have successfully coordinated with one another for their mutual benefit, and offering a discount to locals has brought Joyful Journey an increase in people from Alamosa.
Theresa Stevens emphasized the importance of having a strong chamber board. Alamosa County Chamber is currently in the process of evaluating all of their events, determining the usefulness and benefits of each one to the chamber and local businesses. The chamber currently puts on the Ice Fest, the Art Gala Fundraiser, the Art walk, the 4th of July Celebration, the Beat the Heat BBQ festival and they are currently developing an Oktoberfest event for Sept. 30 with Colorado Malting Company and local breweries. Wright added they have had success with using Constant Contact on a quarterly basis to get information out to members, and encouraged a Valley-wide calendar as well because Alamosa’s policy is to promote their events over others when there is a potential time conflict, and a Valley-wide calendar would be a fair method. Colville encouraged attendees to use the example of Kat Olance’s calendar on www.museumtrail.org which all agreed was one of the most comprehensive in the Valley.
Gary Wilkinson stated the dynamics of a website would not necessarily be difficult; Weebly only costs $150 per year for another site he maintains. The Monte Vista Chamber is currently paying for Constant Contact, but McCarn encouraged him to contact their administration and they should make it free. Wilkinson encouraged attendees to “make the Valley a destination” and used the All-State Games as an example. If the chambers and tourism boards could market the Valley and draw the games here, it is still a shorter length of time to drive between towns than it is to drive across Denver. Wright also added conferences always lead to a hotel shortage in Alamosa and towns shouldn’t downplay their importance, regardless of each hotel’s size. There have been unconfirmed rumors that Alamosa hotel proprietors have called those with reservations and raised their rates when the rooms are in high demand, sometimes $200 per night.
Burnett wrapped up the meeting by noting in Monte Vista the chamber has previously struggled and their reputation had dropped in the community, but they are working hard to change that, as are many of the other chambers in the Valley. “We care about our community and we’ll do whatever it takes,” she said of the effort to better coordinate. Leaders from each chamber were provided with the MOU to sign, and at the request of the Saguache Chamber they will also be writing a summary of how each one functions. When the Valley-wide calendar is launched, a central person for each chamber will be given access to edit and add to it and the chambers will work to meet again in September.