If the poet John Donne were alive today, he would have said this about the regional approach to economic development: “No county is an island entirely of itself; each one is a piece of the community, a part of the main.”

Many county residents hear the name Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, Boardman Chamber of Commerce or Umatilla Chamber of Commerce but don’t fully understand what the organization is all about. Most people probably know that it has something to do with businesses, but beyond that their knowledge about the actual workings of the organization may not be very extensive.

People who recognize the importance of a vibrant business community as it relates to their lives should be pleased to know that the chambers are working hard to maintain their status as leading business organizations in their respective cities. Their goal is to provide businesses with the answers and connections those businesses need to succeed and thrive. They have committed themselves to looking into the future so businesses can be at the forefront of whatever innovations and new opportunities come about. Said another way, the chambers are not standing still, and that’s good for city and county businesses and the people who are dependent upon those businesses’ successes as well as probably everyone who lives here. Businesses that have chosen not to become a member should rethink that decision, in light of all the chambers are attempting to do; and what they can do for them.

 Let’s never settle for being what we are but continue to work toward making it what we should be. With that thought working as the cornerstone for the organization, the chambers are seeking additional ways to reach out to help their members. The chambers have influence in numerous leadership circles because they represent the important voice and thinking of business leaders.

Many people want chambers to stay neutral because of a diversified membership and don’t want them to take positions on local, city, county or state political issues. Opponents of chambers getting involved in the backing of such issues say such involvement could hurt their businesses when people don’t agree with their choices, and they say that’s not what chambers should do.

The greater good, however, comes when the chamber steps up and gets involved in passing policies, studying and taking positions on local, city, county and state issues and electing candidates who can best serve the community as well as business. The perspective of the business community and their opinions about issues are important to the health and success of the overall community.

For Umatilla and Morrow counties, a vibrant chamber of commerce isn’t an option; it’s a necessity. Successful economic development in any community depends largely on using the right “formula,” one that leverages inherent strengths to create job growth that builds on itself. A portion of that formula must include a broader economic partnership that involves the cities, the counties and the port. There needs to be more cooperation toward an economic development model emphasizing a regional approach to promote the individual cities strengths.

The reality is that cooperative economic development will attract companies — and jobs — from outside the area, a positive net gain.

After all, we’re not on some island unto ourselves, but working together to make better and stronger communities.

Mike Mathisen, 43, is married and has two daughters. He lives in Hermiston and works as food service manager for the Oregon Dept. of Corrections at Two Rivers Correctional Institution. He volunteers with several area organizations and is a court appointed special advocate. 

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