A new direction for the Lacey Thurston Chamber—formerly the Lacey Thurston County Chamber of Commerce—is being heralded (quite literally) by the Chamber’s new executive director.

Penny Batts, who was with the Building Industry Assn. of Washington before replacing Jan Teague in September, makes the announcement on a monthly basis through recordings that are then aired on local radio station KGY-AM and FM.

Though the 60-second radio spots had been running several months before Batts assumed her new post, the latest broadcasts are distinctive—and not simply because they feature a new voice.

“We’ve come of age,” says Batts.

What the Lacey Thurston Chamber is now projecting is a new era of volunteer and political involvement, she says.

Citing an increase in membership that has brought the Chamber’s roster to 500 in recent months, Batts and her staff claim the Chamber is revitalized as it has not been in some time. One area in which the Chamber will focus its new-found energy is the political scene, they add.

“Our political action committee is a sleeping giant,” Batts says. “But that giant is being awakened. The group providing direction for our PAC just acquired 20 new members. Their enthusiasm is running pretty high.”

The Chamber board is laying out a new direction—one that will include finding and running candidates for local office.

“We want business-friendly candidates on the Lacey City Council,” Batts says. The Chamber plans to tackle issues affecting business on county and state levels as well, Batts says. If that process includes working in consort with other chambers or other business organizations, that’s just fine with Batts.

Lacey continues to be a hotbed for business and real estate development, says Batts, though the rash of “big box” stores that infected the city three years ago along Martin Way has lost much of its itch, at least for the time being. Currently, the Lacey Thurston Chamber keeps busy supporting new construction at Meridian Campus, the “downtown Lacey” initiative and Target Stores seeking to become the new anchor merchant for a refurbished—though still languishing—South Sound Mall.

In addition to the radio spots, the Chamber is launching a web site. Chamber staff say the City is a strong supporter of the site because the content is timely and all-encompassing, including information about events and statistics about the city.

Finally, Batts says the Chamber is refining its membership package, adding benefits such as long distance service, and seeking a cell-phone partnership capable of passing on savings to members.

Recent additions to the Chamber’s membership list include several large firms—United Parcel Service, Spring Air Mattress Company, Office Depot, Godfather’s Pizza and Colonial Inn. The size and scope of the new sign-ups presents a sharp contrast with the Chamber’s more typical members, mostly small businesses with five employees or less.

“Our chamber doesn’t have a very corporate personality,” Batts says, using the example of the Olympia/Thurston Chamber to make her point. “In fact, we have 60 home-based businesses as members. We’re more known for our friendliness, our networking and our strong and active volunteers.

“Of course, we don’t mind when large companies want to join.”

By Mark Woytowich, Business Examiner staff