Puyallup/Sumner Chamber of Commerce president and CEO
Leading a Chamber, especially one as large as yours, requires taking on many different roles and handling myriad challenges. With what kind of experience did you walk into the job?
I have lived in Puyallup for more than 25 years and raised both my children here, so Pierce County is my home. Add to that 20 plus years of owning a construction company with my husband, and working at a local law firm as a paralegal and office manager for almost three decades, and I feel I understand the challenges of being a business owner firsthand. In 2005, I was also hired as the executive director for the Sumner Downtown Association, and I truly enjoyed the mission of revitalizing the historic downtown core.
Why were you interested in taking on the job of Chamber president and CEO for your area in the first place?
I think Puyallup and Sumner are blessed to have Main Street Programs in each city. Vibrant and active downtowns don’t happen by accident, and cities that keep their eye on the downtown ball continue to thrive. However, the challenges of business issues outside the downtown focus area really inspired me to advocate for the bigger picture. I accepted this position three years ago because I am passionate about representing business interests and promoting two of the best communities in the State of Washington.
What are some of the biggest advantages for businesses to make Puyallup or Sumner their base?
Both cities have safe and vibrant communities and downtowns, great schools, and plenty of housing inventory for employees. We also have the positive economic impact of JBLM, and we’re on the 50 yard line between two ports.
What are the small business communities like in Puyallup and Sumner? Meaning, are they growing, or have things been changing or declining due to the recession or other factors?
Whether you’re in our two communities or any others, if businesses don’t adapt to issues that negatively impact their bottom line, they normally do not survive. Conversely, those negative impacts can sometimes be the impetus for recognizing new opportunities. Many times it depends on the resources available to the owner or manager, and that’s why our Chamber strives to provide business advocacy for government policy, improved education and resources for our members, and are partnering with our cities to assist with economic development issues.
Which types of businesses/industries are strongest in each of these cities?
In Puyallup, some of the strongest development or growth is seen in the health care industry and tourism. The newly constructed MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital has brought not only 21st century technology in health care to our local communities, but has also spawned development of various medical service buildings and businesses both on and off the Good Samaritan Campus. Also, with our growing aging population, I think this is an asset for our local communities. The Washington State Fair and Event Center is another economic engine for Puyallup, and has spurred the addition of two new hotel properties. With more than 2 million visitors to the downtown fair venue annually, Puyallup visitors outnumber those to all of Mt. Rainier in a year.
In Sumner, their industrial area is home to well known manufacturing and distribution companies like Green Mt. Coffee Roasters, REI, Amazon, Kelloggs, lululemon, Dayton Superior, Toysmith, and more. What’s also interesting is that while Sumner has a population of just over 9,000, there are approximately 9,500 total jobs in the city and industrial area. That’s amazing.
Which types of industries are ripe for growth in each?
I think there is still plenty of capacity for each city in each of these categories.
What types of small businesses would fill in some economic gaps in Puyallup? In Sumner?
The market drives the new business. In Puyallup, Wesley Homes is building a new facility near Bradley Lake in answer to the growing aging population. Local residents do not want to move from their hometown, but they also don’t want the responsibility of the rural homes they have raised their families in. This development is responding to the market need.
In Sumner, the Orton Junction project which is attempting to take advantage of the Transfer Development Rights (TDR) program, has been embroiled in a debate between the community, which has been extremely articulate in what it wants, and outside environmental groups that want to preserve property for potential farming. Based on overwhelming community input and support, the Orton Junction development is slated to include health services, education outreach facilities, senior housing, plus space for some unique retail and service businesses. It will be interesting to see if our state and judicial system supports local government and communities attempting to utilize approved growth management tools already in place, or if outside interest groups will prevail in this debate.
What is the most challenging part of your job this year?
Probably the metamorphosis into more of a business advocacy role for our members and an economic development partner for the communities. While exciting, these new roles are time consuming and change the focus of time honored Chamber activities. But I am loving the challenge of the change and I have a fantastic board of directors and volunteer committee members who support our new focus because they, too, can see the vision and positive future impact to our businesses and communities.
As Chamber president, what’s the most rewarding thing you’ve seen or experienced so far?
Truly, it seems every day here brings new rewards. It’s not all a bed of roses, but when I talk with new businesses moving into the area, owners who are expanding and hiring new employees, acknowledge corporations who honor and reward their employees or make generous contributions to our communities, schools and downtowns, I am reminded daily why I love my job. Three weeks ago, Col. Barry Huggins, who is relocating to Germany, presented me with an American flag that flew in Afghanistan. I also recently traveled with the Pierce County U.S. Open advance team to Pennsylvania to learn about what Main Street programs, Chambers, CVB’s and other economic development organizations do when a national event comes to town, and with it a global spotlight. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. to advocate for local issues Ã¢ï¿½Â¦ It’s all rewarding. But the best reward is listening to business success stories. And the better the news, the happier I am.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your time at the Chamber?
Just one? That’s like identifying a specific M&M in a one-pound bag. Right now, I’d say it’s that Washington state needs to provide a business friendly environment and the infrastructure for our businesses to succeed. Our businesses carry the majority of the tax load here in our state, and if we don’t make it possible for them to succeed, they will leave or close. Look at what Boeing is doing with their jobs, sector by sector.
It’s also why our Chamber has been so involved in the SR-167 and SR-509 advocacy. This infrastructure investment is critical if our state hopes to compete nationally and globally. But it’s more than just transportation; we need to educate our workforce for needed skills; we need to provide health care for our employees; etc. It’s hard to name just one lesson because it seems each relates to another. It’s why it’s critical for our Chamber to have board and committee members who are involved in our business advocacy efforts, so that those businesses who can’t afford to take time away from the their businesses are still represented.
Finally, why should businesses get involved with their local Chamber? What are the benefits?
Most small business owners and managers are busy making money and don’t have time to dedicate to being involved in the public policy process, even though it absolutely impacts their bottom line. Issues like B&O tax rates, utility rates or mandatory sick leave: They all have an economic impact and potentially determine if the business will thrive and provide local jobs or downsize and maybe close. Chambers not only advocate for a business-friendly environment, they also connect businesses to businesses, and to communities as well. A strong and vibrant business community has a positive impact on the quality of life for residents in Puyallup and Sumner. And since this is my home, I am one motivated Chamber president.