Shelley Niemann directing Trunk-or-Treat traffic
Shelley Niemann, seen here directing traffic last year at a special Trunk-or-Treat event, has stepped down as chamber director after seven-plus years. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce organizes its share of fun, annual activities from tasting wine to handing out Halloween treats to recognizing the top volunteers. For the past 7-1/2 years, Shelley Niemann has been the driving force behind those events as the chamber’s director.

Niemann, who recently announced that she had stepped down as the director, said that what she enjoyed most about the job was building relationships with chamber members.

“That was my favorite part, honestly, was just being immersed in the community and building those relationships over time,” Niemann said. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years that I’ve worked with and that have supported both the chamber and myself, whether it’s through volunteering or just attending our various events.

“I’ve so come to appreciate people’s support and I hope to return that favor in the coming years by supporting them however I can in my new role,” she added.

Niemann’s new role is heading up the marketing department at Alyrica, a local internet provider. She will remain active in the chamber as a member through her new employer and also as an ambassador, a group of volunteers that specializes in welcoming new businesses to the community and assisting existing businesses with marketing ideas.

Shelley Niemann hands out PPE
Shelley Niemann prepares boxes of personal protective equipment to distribute to businesses. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Alyssa Lewis, who serves as president of the chamber’s board of directors, said the organization for now will hold off on hiring another director given the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.

“In the meantime, Lisa Watkins, who is a current board member, is stepping down from the board to serve as our interim executive director,” Lewis said. “We have the added benefit that Shelley will be continuing as a chamber ambassador so if questions come up, she can still help, which is so wonderful.”

Lewis said the chamber’s board will take a good look at what to do with the director position at a future meeting.

“Once we get to a point later this year where we feel we are ready to hire, it will most likely continue to be a part-time position,” Lewis said. “The board has agreed that when the time comes to rehire, we will re-evaluate the position and make the best decisions based on the current and future needs of the community.”

Niemann’s two sons represented the primary reason for her decision to move on from the part-time position at the chamber and into a higher-paying full-time job with Alyrica. Her oldest son, Blake, will be a senior at Philomath High this coming academic year and plans to attend college out of state. Her younger son, Grant, will be a freshman.

“Both of my kids don’t need me as much in terms of getting to and from school and so forth — they’re both in high school now and so it was just the ideal time for me to go back to working full-time and also preparing financially for my son to be in college full-time,” she said.

Alyrica’s guiding principles also factored into the job change for Niemann.

“In addition to wanting to transfer to full-time employment, I was very drawn to Alyrica’s core values,” she said. “I felt like their values were in line with how I live my life, so we would be a good fit.”

Alyrica’s core values include “help people first,” “go the extra mile,” “take ownership” and have “courage to do the right thing.”

Niemann succeeded Nancy Elwer in the position during the spring of 2014.

It’s not uncommon for towns the size of Philomath to not even have their own chamber of commerce. But Niemann and Lewis are not surprised that a chamber in a city of 5,000 and growing can remain sustainable and find success.

“I think in smaller towns such as Philomath, they often do partner with bigger towns but in our case, I think we’re just a very close-knit community and that’s something our chamber has worked really hard on — building relationships with our members, which are the local business owners,” Niemann said. “We all like to support each other — Philomath is the ‘City of Volunteers’ and the chamber in order to function requires a lot of volunteers. … We support each other and it forms this long-lasting partnership that I’ve definitely been witness to over the last almost eight years.”

Lewis sees a local business community that wants to make an effort to be involved.

“I think Philomath is unique in that we have a community filled with very active business owners and community members,” she said. “Because of this, it allows our chamber to continue to provide support when it’s needed.”

Lewis said the chamber is on solid footing despite the ongoing pandemic.

“Like many businesses, we had to make adjustments and learn to stretch the dollar a little further,” she said. “With the ability to have our wine walk this year, which was a huge success, it showed us that our businesses are really pushing forward and making a comeback. I’m glad that we are able to continue to support our community and look forward to many more years.”

Lewis had nice words about Niemann’s commitment to the chamber.

“On behalf of the board, we want to thank Shelley for her many years as the executive director,” Lewis said. “She has been such a joy to work with and appreciate her continued level of care and support she provided to each and every business here in Philomath. We look forward to her continued participation as a chamber ambassador and wish her well in her new career with Alyrica.”

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