Leading to the Town of Oro Valley’s recent adoption of the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget, a new addition to this year’s final tally is $25,000 in funding for the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, previously known as the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce.

The Oro Valley Town Council voted 6-1 on May 16 to approve the funding.

Just as the name has been changed, the chamber is promising additional support to attract and maintain Oro Valley businesses in its contractual agreement with the Town. Amongst other conditions, the contract requires the chamber to enhance the Town’s existing “Shop Oro Valley” campaign by collaborating with staff to create a coupon book, serve as a second distributor for Oro Valley Dollars, display materials in the chamber offices related to Oro Valley Business Navigation, Shop Oro Valley, and Oro Valley Dollars, maintain a participation in the Town’s Business Retention and Expansion program, and participate in special events for new or potential businesses.

In order to assess the impact of the chamber, the contract allows the Town to evaluate progress at the end of each calendar quarter via reports submitted by the chamber.

Despite the chamber’s contractual obligations, which, if not met, could result in a suspension of chamber funding, some have opposed the plan, citing a conflict of interest.

Councilman Barry Gillaspie used the same phrase to describe the agreement before being the Councilman Barry Gillaspie used the same phrase to describe the agreement before being the sole councilmember to vote against the funding.

“On this item, I want Dave Perry and the members of the chamber to know I wish them well and I want them to continue to prosper and do a good job for Oro Valley,” said Gillaspie. “However, I will vote no on this issue because I believe it is a conflict of interest for the Town to provide money to an entity that takes issue with Town policies and decisions. It’s not personal, it’s just a principle issue I can’t back down on.”

Gillaspie added that he appreciates the chamber’s agreement to remain uninvolved in the Town’s political affairs as part of the new contract.

According to Mayor Satish Hiremath, the chamber’s previous involvement in the Town’s political affairs was the very reason the Town initially halted funding. However, Hiremath said given the circumstances at the time, the chamber had every right to be politically involved.

“I don’t think funding should have ever been stopped,” he said. “The bottom line is, at the time, if the Mayor, council, and Town staff were doing their job, people from the chamber wouldn’t have had to take a stance. The chamber felt it had to take a political stance because they felt they weren’t being listened to, and that the local government wasn’t doing as much as it could to keep businesses viable, and quite frankly, I agree.”

Oro Valley resident Don Bristow has been the most vocal adversary to the approved chamber funding, and spoke against it during a public hearing.

“The chamber is not a governmental organization,” he said. “The chamber is not exclusively an Oro Valley organization, the chamber is active in political and legislative affairs, and therefore it’s a conflict of interest to give them funds. The chamber is not located in Oro Valley (outside city limits at 7435 N. Oracle Rd.), therefore its rental payments are supporting non-Oro Valley property owners. It is also impossible to isolate Oro Valley’s funding from overall activities of this chamber.”

Bristow added that the proposed addition of two new Town staff members to the economic development team would serve to provide the Town with some of its needed business pursuits.

Hiremath addressed a few of the concerns in a later interview. Relating to new Town staff, Hiremath said the Town is already stretched thin, and the addition of two economic employees would not equate to services offered by the chamber.

Hiremath added that the location of the chamber is not as crucial as the Town’s anticipated financial results in partnering, particularly since the Town is currently working to annex the area encompassing the chamber.

“Anytime we make an investment, we expect to have a larger return on that investment,” he said. “The great thing about Dave is if we asked him to move into Oro Valley, he would. We are more concerned about being proactive. If we choose as a community not to control our destiny by investing in things to make our community successful, such as sales tax, we get what we deserve. I think a healthy, good, active, robust economy will depend on a chamber dedicated to promoting business for the community and region.”

Chamber president and CEO Dave Perry addressed some of the public’s concerns in a recent public hearing, reaffirming that as per the financial participation agreement with the Town, the chamber will not partake in Oro Valley’s political affairs.

Perry said he expects the partnership to make Oro Valley a more business friendly, business retentive community.

“This is a good idea for the Town on several fronts,” said Perry. “It solidifies our relationship with the business community in Oro Valley, and that’s important as the Town attempts to grow and expand, and overcome the perception that Oro Valley is a difficult place to do  business.”

While Perry acknowledged the chamber is not exclusive to Oro Valley, he emphasized that the Tucson Regional Economic Organization and Metro Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, which offer their services in Oro Valley, are not exclusive either.

More than half of the chamber’s 425 members currently reside in Oro Valley.

“We believe Oro Valley is a core community for us, and we have significant relationships established there,” said Perry. “This is our place, and we are going to do everything in our power to help Oro Valley thrive.”

The participation agreement is effective from July 1 through June 30, 2013. The Town has the right to withhold part or all of the payments to the chamber if conditions of the agreement are not met.

It is not uncommon for entities to fund local chambers. The Town of Marana gives the Marana Chamber Commerce about $30,000 annually.

Do you think the Town of Oro Valley should fund the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce? Visit explorernews.com to vote in an online poll.


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