Chamber Explains What’s Next After Going Virtual

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    Making use of technology and saving money were what led the Orinda Chamber of Commerce to suddenly shutter the group’s downtown office in October and go virtual.
    Chamber board member and former president Roy Hodgkinson, a retired information technology manager who spearheaded the move to a virtual chamber, says the reason was to keep up with the times.
    In the past, the chamber offices were a place where members, those curious about joining or others wanting to know more about the Orinda business climate, could wander in and get answers to their questions.
    “Today, people don’t wander around – they get on the Internet,” says Hodgkinson. “We have to adjust to the influence of the internet.”
    Publicity and marketing, another key chamber function members don’t use as much as before, was also a reason to cut back on staff and office space, he said.
    “Our small business members do their own marketing and publicity because it’s easy to do online for a minimal cost,” says Hodgkinson, noting that he recently sold a house in Ohio without ever going to the state.
    Another consideration was the savings on the salary for former chamber Executive Director Cindy Powell to be in the office one day a week, an amount Hodgkinson would not reveal.
    Phone and Internet access, having to pay Powell as a W2 employee, subleasing space from the Orinda Association and other overhead was “60 percent over salary,” said Hodgkinson. To illustrate what this means Hodgkinson said “if we were paying that person a $100,000 a year it was costing $160,000.”
    Powell said it cost about $1,500 a month, including her salary, to run the chamber out of the OA office. For 14 years, Powell said, the chamber’s physical presence in downtown offered a personal contact point for existing and new business owners, out-of-town visitors and entrepreneurs seeking advice. Powell said her part-time responsibilities included in-office, weekend, and evening events.
    “The small cost of running the chamber being the sole reason to terminate a physical presence may appear prudent in the short-term, however, I fear the long-term repercussions will make it harder on businesses in Orinda,” Powell said. “Our small community supports each other and I regret this loss.”
    Hodgkinson said the changes will allow the chamber to concentrate on what it does best, including:

  • Working with the East Bay chapter of SCORE, a Small Business Administration resource that encourages entrepreneurship through mentoring, workshops and educational resources. The chamber also partners with a similarly minded organization, Lamorinda Entrepreneurs.
  • Cross promoting Lamorinda Presents events on the chamber website.
  • Participating in the East Bay Leadership Council by giving input to Orinda’s representatives in the California state legislation, Senator Steve Glazer, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer Kahan, and other representatives on legislation affecting the city.
  • Holding mixers where business people can gather to talk in person.

    The chamber also has relaunched its online newsletter and currently has about 600 subscribers.
    The Orinda Association President Carlos Baltodano said his organization will “miss having them in our office as fellow tenants, but we are encouraged to see that the chamber is going to a virtual format to reach out to more local businesses.”
    Baltodano encouraged local businesses to join the chamber as “decisions on downtown parking and revitalizing need the input of local businesses to arrive at an effective solution. Joining the chamber will add a stronger voice from local businesses.”

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