The Chamber Works Project
The Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce has had a long history of promoting and developing the Valley’s economy over the last 130+ years that we’ve been around. Our recent membership survey showed that the vast majority of you feel that the Chamber’s main purpose is to build a strong local economy. I agree.
So with this in mind, the Chamber is embarking on an economic initiative called “The Chamber Works Project.” The goal is to focus on emerging elements of our economy that have growth opportunities that can promote investment, employment and revenue for the Valley. Even if your business does not directly reside inside one of the clusters, you should derive benefit from the increased economic activity. Further, the Chamber Works Project is intended to be complimentary to the efforts of our economic development partners including the Port of Walla Walla, Tourism Walla Walla, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.
The four corners of the Chamber Works Project are:
1. The Creative Economy
2. Plow 2 Plate: Culinary Agriculture
3. Hispanic Business Roundtable
4. Digital W2
The Creative Economy
As you already know, there is a growing arts and culture scene in the Walla Walla Valley. More importantly, it is a significant contributor to our economy. According to Walla Walla Trends and recent Census data, Walla Walla County has a 50% higher rate of art-related businesses per capita than the Washington State average. These businesses include art galleries, book stores, independent artists, performing arts companies, writers and performers. Additionally, there is growth of our professional creative services firms in the areas of marketing, software, and design. In addition to the direct economic impact of these companies and individuals, there is also a cumulative impact on the attractiveness of the Valley for tourism, business relocation and simply making this a great place for those of us who are already here. Last month we held our Quarterly Luncheon on the topic of Art+Commerce: Walla Walla’s Creative Economy. Hopefully you had a chance to attend. Our panel represented many elements that make up this cluster: live stage, literary, music, fine art, film and digital media. There were so many others that I couldn’t fit on the panel! We have the opportunity to build upon the considerable talent that already exists and continue to welcome new ventures that it will attract.
Plow 2 Plate: Culinary Agriculture
The Walla Walla Valley has been a center of excellence for agriculture for a long time. More recently with the growth of the wine industry there is a rapidly growing culinary scene that is based here. World class chefs, wine makers and specialty food producers are based in the Valley and sourcing growers locally. We will be exploring ways to more vertically integrate and promote this sector. The branding proposition is that the very highest quality and creativity around food, just like wine, is coming from this Valley. Further, working with our partners, we will strive to cultivate markets for export both regionally and beyond. With talented farmers and incredible growing conditions, talented chefs, a great culinary program at the Community College that can develop a workforce, and a growing reputation for innovation, we have all the essential ingredients to “grow” culinary agriculture from the plow to the plate.
Hispanic Business Roundtable
Hispanic owned businesses are an increasingly important part of the Valley’s economy. Hispanics make up about 21% of the population of Walla Walla County. This is up over 36% over the last 10 years. I want the Chamber to play a more active role in assisting this segment of our business community. The Chamber held our first Hispanic Business Roundtable a few months ago. It was a great discussion and laid the groundwork for future collaboration. One of the local Hispanic-owned businesses that attended was El Tesoro de Mi Tierra, a producer and importer of premium tequila. We have been helping them with some marketing and regulatory issues. There have been some historic walls between the Anglo and Hispanic communities. While there are sometimes different cultural issues, marketing sensitivities and variations of business challenges, the bottom line is that business is bilingual. The Chamber is here to support the ENTIRE business community.
The digital revolution has impacted so many aspects of our business and personal lives. One of the most significant is the ability to do business globally from anywhere with high speed telecommunications. There is a significant upgrade underway to the broadband infrastructure in the Valley. It will allow businesses to have access to cutting edge telecommunication and related technology tools and digital distribution. This type of infrastructure is the equivalent to those towns that had the railroad come through in the 1800s. Having access to high speed broadband can be transformative to business and can be another tool for relocation. The combination of our attractive lifestyle and being digitally competitive can be a powerful combination to those companies that can locate anywhere. I am currently working with an international organization that assists in broadband centric strategies. I believe that there are some interesting opportunities that lie ahead.
In all four Chamber Works Projects, our approach will follow the format of Engage, Explore, and Execute. I will develop a series of roundtable discussions with key players, explore various strategic issues and opportunities, and then develop the action steps to move ahead. The Chamber Works Project is a multiyear endeavor. It will undoubtedly have some unexpected turns and challenges on this journey. I am confident, however, that these industry segments put us on a path for growth opportunities for the Walla Walla Valley. This will take a collaborative effort of the business community and our industry partners. But hey, as the Chamber motto says, “The things we do best, we do together.” This will be another great example.