Chamber Executive Director Lisa Watkins works last month at Sip and Stroll. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath-based organization that promotes the interests of the local business community and organizes a series of popular public events finds itself in the midst of change with a new location, a new executive director and by early next year, a new board president.

Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Watkins will be moving on at some point in the coming weeks after serving in the lead position for two years. She took over the job after sitting on the organization’s board of directors for four years.

“We’ve made a lot of positive improvements, but now it really requires more time than I can give,” Watkins said. “So it’s a great time to transition the position to a new person and let them run with it.”

Watkins said she intends to remain active with the chamber in some fashion.

“We’re going to miss her … We’d love to have her back,” said Alyssa Lewis, chamber board president. “I’ll be done at the end of December — I can’t renew again — so maybe there will be an opportunity to step back on as a board member.”

Lewis is hitting a term limit on her time with the chamber’s board. She’s currently in her 12th year and succeeded Marcia Gilson as board president in 2014.

In addition to those future changes related to lead positions, the chamber also moved to a new location with a move from Timber Towne Coffee to Philomath Museum.

“It’s kind of a different situation there in the fact that we don’t really have an office space,” Lewis said. “However, we do have all of our Visitor Center information at the museum, outside and inside, and that’s been a really positive collaboration.”

Watkins lauded for her work

Back in the summer of 2021 following Shelley Niemann’s departure from the position, Watkins was announced as an interim executive director with no immediate plans for a permanent solution because of uncertainties related to the pandemic.

During her time on the job, Lewis said she has helped the chamber move forward in key ways.

“We’ve been able to successfully launch a brand new website with a lot of really awesome tools,” Lewis said. “She’s contributed a lot of time and a lot of energy to ramping up our membership numbers and adding a lot of depth of knowledge when it comes to QuickBooks (accounting), especially with all her experience with her own business.”

Watkins and her husband, Russell, operate a trucking business — they have for more than three decades now — and she handles all of the office work.

“That along with being an active grandma, I’m busy even without the chamber job,” Watkins said. “We’d like to scale back a bit and focus on other priorities.”

The change coincides with the chamber planning to expand on the responsibilities of the person in the position.

“The chamber’s wanting to add more to the plate and to give more for our members and she doesn’t have the time to do that anymore — to be able to spend more time adding more events or training opportunities for members,” Lewis said. “So she just decided now would be a good time for us to look at hiring somebody new.”

Lewis estimated the job commitment at 15 to 20 hours per week.

“For somebody looking for a part-time job, this would be great,” Lewis said. “Somebody with some marketing background, communications, somebody obviously who is personable and friendly and wants to be involved in the community.”

Lewis said the chamber doesn’t currently have any definitive plans just yet for new events.

“We, of course, do want to expand and maybe add in another event to be able to do some more things, especially for our members — webinars, brown bag lunch, bringing in a trainer for different things,” she said.

And perhaps ideas will surface with a new person in the position. 

“Someone that has some fresh ideas and some things that they’d like to see that they’re passionate about,” Lewis said. “That’s what we’re looking for and we’re excited about being able to do some more things that we haven’t had an opportunity to do before.”

Potential for membership growth

With various projects going on in town from downtown improvements to new industrial space, it’s possible that the business community could be welcoming new additions. 

“This town has grown and changed in so many ways over the years and I think as we get this streetscapes project finished, it’s just going to make it even that much better,” Lewis said. “It’s really going to beautify the downtown and really start attracting more and I think that’s just going to boost the chamber even more, which will give us more opportunities to provide more services for our members.”

Lewis didn’t have the numbers in front of her but said the chamber does have more members now than at any other time in the past.

“We’re really happy with that,” she said. “ Obviously, I think that is a reflection on our performance and just overall how our events go and how they run speaks volumes.”

Watkins said she will stay through the change as a new director gets up to speed.

“My plan is to wrap up in the next month but I will stay to help transition and train a new person,” Watkins said. “I care about the businesses and want this to be an easy transition for everyone.”

Lewis said the chamber would like to get someone hired as soon as possible just because it’s getting close to the time of year when invoicing goes out for the coming year.

“Being able to train them as we’re actively doing it honestly works best,” she said.

Chamber, museum collaboration

As for the chamber’s move to the museum, Lewis said she believes the two organizations help each other.

“In this situation, it’s really amazing because visitors can go into the museum, they can speak to a person that can help with different things in the area and we didn’t have that before,” Lewis said, explaining that the director didn’t really have set hours when the chamber had an office. “It also helps attract people into the museum. So it’s really a great win-win situation for the museum and for us both.”

The new location also has other advantages, Lewis said, such as a brochure availability even when the museum is closed and more parking.

“Somebody who’s got an RV, you know, they can pull up in there and they don’t have to worry about finding a side street somewhere to park,” she said. “Plenty of parking, big turnaround, so it’s way more convenient and it just makes more sense.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.