Even while wearing masks Monday morning, Oct. 11, you could see the excitement on the faces of Val Hoxie, the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce executive assistant, and Kris Bennett, board of directors chair. Anticipating an upcoming open house, the two women were putting finishing touches on the chamber’s new office space. Everyone is invited to drop in Friday, Oct. 15, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 630 S. Highway 395, Hermiston.

Hoxie, who has been with the chamber since July 30, moved to Hermiston in October 2020. After Kristina Olivas, the chamber’s chief executive officer since March, recently returned to her previous employer, Hoxie has been busy moving forward with chamber programs and planning for the transition to the newly remodeled space at the former Pioneer Title building. And she couldn’t be more excited.

“This community is so welcoming,” Hoxie said. “I’ve truly fallen in love with it.”

Following Olivas’ departure, the chamber board immediately launched a search for her replacement. Bennett said the board will make an announcement and introduce its new executive at 4:30 p.m. during the open house.

For nearly two decades, the chamber had been housed in the Hermiston Community Center. However, in January 2018, the city of Hermiston ended its contract with the chamber and moved its parks and recreation program into the center.

Several months after moving its office to the Cornerstone Plaza, the chamber received a $1 million allocation from the state to build a new workforce development center. After purchasing property on South Highway 395 across from New Hope Community Church and drafting plans for the project, a fundraising drive has been delayed because of the global pandemic.

Although those plans are on hold, the chamber still wanted to move forward with providing workforce development and have meeting space available for its membership. The former Pioneer Title building offers that — plus, Hoxie and Bennett said the location’s visibility is very appealing.

“In just the few weeks that we’ve been here, we have a lot more walk-in traffic,” Hoxie said. “And the phone is ringing off the hook.”

Entering the building, people are immediately greeted with a large mural-type canvas created by Lisa Peppard of Artful Virgo. The colorful piece features various logos and designs that depict all things Hermiston and beyond.

Bennett, who owns KRISanthemums, is especially excited about the opportunity to help other local businesses thrive — whether it’s through offering resources and training or space and networking.

“It’s for the community, that’s why we’re here,” she said “We want to make things easier for businesses.”

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