The chamber of commerce gets political

Susan Huntington believes that the Seaside Chamber of Commerce is missing out on a valuable political opportunity.

“Seaside is on the short end of the stick,” Huntington told local business owners and chamber members gathered for breakfast on March 7. “We need a change, folks, and I want Seaside to be a part of that.”

That change, Huntington said, can only be realized if the Seaside chamber ramps up its political efforts, which is why Huntington announced that she and the chamber board would develop a governmental affairs committee and invite politicians to speak to the chamber once a month.

That morning, Huntington recounted how in her time working at The Dalles Chamber of Commerce, she witnessed the tremendous impact a chamber can have when it gets involved in politics.

“The key to this was the relationships they had built,” she said.

Huntington hopes that the monthly political conversations can help the Seaside chamber build relationships that will increase its political clout on the North Coast.

“One of our breakfasts each month will be dedicated to government affairs,” Huntington said, noting that it will likely be the second Friday every month. “We’ll have speakers actually come to the breakfast.”

The chamber’s first governmental affairs event was a timber summit March 8 at the Seaside Best Western.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and timber industry representatives spoke to roughly three dozen chamber and community members about the state of Northwest Oregon’s timber industry. Huntington said the event was held on a Saturday afternoon because it was the only window in Walden’s schedule.

Timber is an especially important issue for Huntington, whose father, Harvey Bones, was the CEO of Mountain Fir Lumber Company until it closed in 1992 due to a lack of access to federal timber, which many attribute to the listing of the spotted owl as a threatened species.

“We have a problem here in Clatsop County,” Huntington said as she opened the timber summit. “We count on timber here, but we don’t always understand what’s going on.”

Walden discussed the rash of timber mill closures and folded businesses, like Mountain Fir, and the impact they’ve had on Oregon’s economy.

“In 1980, we had 405 mills open; now we have 105,” Walden said. “We’ve lost 300 mills in 30 years and 30,000 mill jobs.”

For Dave Invanoff, vice president of resources for Hampton Lumber and a former Mountain Fir employee, the Seaside chamber’s foray into politics came at the perfect time.

“The timing of this meeting is incredibly fortunate because in the next six months the Department of Forestry and the Board of Forestry are going to be trying to develop a new forest development plan,” Ivanoff said, “and you as leaders in Clatsop County have an incredible opportunity to make your voices known and influence the policy going forward.”

Walden and Ivanoff were joined by Steve Zika, the CEO of Hampton Lumber, who discussed the difficulties faced by Oregon’s timber industry.

“Our first one, and it’s not a surprise to people here in Oregon, is environmental litigation,” Zika said. “The other challenge that we face besides environmental litigation is the log exports. … Because of the log exports and the litigation, we have the highest log costs in the world.”

The timber summit allowed attendees access to industry representatives intimately involved in the future of Northwest Oregon’s timber.

Ivanoff is one of eight members of the Alternative Forest Management Stakeholder Group, which was created by the Board of Forestry in the fall of 2013 and has been meeting to discuss possible alternative management proposals for Northwest Oregon forestland.

The Hampton vice president has submitted one such proposal, the “70/30” forest management strategy.

Ivanoff’s “70/30” strategy is a zoned approach that would designate 30 percent of state timberland for “intensive conservation values” as Ivanoff put it, and the remaining 70 percent for sustainable production of timber under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.

The “70/30” approach would, “on an annual, sustainable basis, increase timber production for the three North Coast districts … by 80 million board feet a year to about 262 million from the 182 that they’re doing now,” Ivanoff told summit attendees. “That’s going to produce, at a minimum, somewhere between $27 and $30 million, year after year after year.”

This type of economic impact is the reason Huntington thinks it’s so important for the chamber—whose mission includes “(enhancing) the economic base in Seaside and the North Oregon Coast”—to become more politically involved.

Since the timber summit, Huntington has received some positive feedback.

“I’ve been getting some great phone calls and stuff from people I don’t even know,” she said. “I got a call from a guy who works for The Campbell Group. …They were really enthusiastic because they really felt like they were out there on their own.”

Huntington has also been buoyed by the response of chamber members since she first announced the Seaside chamber’s nascent political efforts.

“It’s been surprisingly positive,” she said. “I think that part of my goal when I spoke with everybody was to make them not be worried.”

Huntington acknowledged that some within the chamber may hear “politics” and cringe; she wanted to combat the notion “that dabbling in government affairs … was a negative, that it created problems rather than provided solutions for members,” she said.

As she has explained her political goals for the chamber, Huntington said she believes that many of the group’s members are seeing the positive possibilities.

“When they got a broader picture of what we could do, it eased that concern, and it actually made people excited because it was an avenue of advocacy that they didn’t have,” she said.

Huntington stressed that the chamber would stick to issues that were vital to the Seaside area, including promoting tourism, working with the Oregon Department of Transportation to improve the area’s roads and discussing the rising push to raise the federal minimum wage.

Though the chamber may not reach a consensus on an issue like raising the minimum wage, which Huntington called “a double-edged blade,” it “merits discussion,” the executive director said.

The governmental affairs committee is open to all chamber members, Huntington said.

“We’ll be recruiting at our next (governmental affairs) meeting,” she said. “All you have to do is sign up: That committee will be the one that will develop the plan of action.”

That next governmental affairs meeting of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce will be at 8:30 a.m. April 11 in the Twisted Fish Restaurant.

Huntington also said the Seaside chapter’s political push will help align the local chamber with the state group and become “directly engaged with the lobbying effort that the state chamber has,” she said.

“We have an opportunity to be on a conference call every week with our lobbying group,” Huntington told the chamber members. “You paid for this when you pay your dues.”

After Huntington’s announcement March 7, chamber board President Bob Mushen reiterated that the body’s political push could only work if the lines of communication remained open.

“This is your chamber and your board,” Mushen said. “Please voice your concerns. Please come to see us.”

The Seaside Signal, 3.24.14. Link: http://goo.gl/n9Ng6O

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