Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett businesses say it’s time the city had its own Chamber of Commerce

The state’s seventh-largest city hasn’t had a chamber since 2011. After 13 years, businesses are rallying for its return.

EVERETT — When Tom Harrison opened a toy store in downtown Everett, the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce organized the store’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Unlike most Snohomish County cities, Everett does not have a chamber of commerce.

“Because there was no Everett chamber I made the decision to join the Marysville Tulalip chamber,” said Harrison, former owner of MyMyToyStore. “The chamber was very clear that they would support me, including holding a ribbon-cutting for my store.”

If an Everett chamber existed, “I would have joined,” he said.

In 2011, the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce voted to merge with a fledgling regional development group, Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Now, many business owners would like to revive it.

At Wednesday’s Everett City Council meeting, Tyler Chism, the city’s economic development manager, explained how a new chamber could benefit the city. The proposal would include a request for $500,000 in COVID-19 relief money.

Similar to other public-private ventures, the money would help kickstart the chamber. Eventually, it would be expected to support itself through annual membership dues and other revenues.

The aim is for it to be self-supporting by 2028, Chism said.

If the City Council approves the resolution next month, an Everett chamber could be established as early as next year.

“Why do we need a chamber of commerce? First and foremost, businesses are asking for it,” Chism told the council.

The list of advantages is long, Chism said.

A chamber could provide networking opportunities, foster business-to-business relationships, fund local events and boost tourism.

Most importantly, it would “act as a voice for the local business community in policy discussions,” Chism said.

Initially skeptical of the need for another economic development group, Chism said he was swayed by the response from Everett business owners.

From concerns that mom-and-pop companies are being neglected to concerns that south Everett’s business community is not properly served, many business owners said “it feels like something is missing” without a chamber, Chism said.

Others worried Everett is falling behind in its ability to attract and retain new businesses. And one longtime business owner said a chamber would allow him to “give back” and support local entrepreneurs and startups.

Harrison’s tale of seeking support from a neighboring chamber is not unique, Chism noted. The Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce regularly holds ribbon cuttings for south Everett businesses.

The Everett Area Chamber predates the city of Everett’s incorporation in 1893. The chamber disbanded in 2011 after the launch of Economic Alliance, which serves as as a countywide chamber of commerce.

Edmonds, Lynnwood, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Snohomish, Granite Falls and Marysville-Tulalip have chambers. The Arlington and Darrington business communities are served by the Stilly Valley Chamber, while Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar, Index, Baring and Skykomish are members of the Sky Valley Chamber.

Regional economic development groups like Economic Alliance and Greater Seattle Partners have a broad focus and tend to put emphasis on larger economic projects, Chism said.

While those “groups do a great job of promoting economic development in the region, they are sometimes so large that smaller mom-and-pop businesses have a hard time getting connected with them,” Chism said.

Smaller groups such as the Downtown Everett Association and the Everett Station District Alliance support specific parts of the city, but many see the need for a broader, citywide business support group.

“Most cities of this size have their own standalone chamber,” said Liz Stenning, executive director of the Everett Downtown Association. Property owners in the city’s downtown fund the nonprofit’s activities, which includes event sponsorship and downtown beautification.

While the Downtown Association tries to fill the gap, “its mission is not the same,” Harrison said.

An Everett chamber would be a definite plus for the city, Harrison said.

“But there is a potential pitfall,” he said. “It’s very important for leadership to have an inclusive and very open mind-set when it comes to businesses.”

Harrison continued: “Whoever leads it needs to bring in all the service businesses and retail businesses, women-owned and minority-owned businesses and mom and pop establishments that do not get a lot of attention because they’re not downtown or because they’re not hip and new.”

As the seventh-largest city in the state, “I do think we should have our own chamber,” City Council member Paula Rhyne said.

Mayor Cassie Franklin agreed.

“The city has needed a chamber for a long time,” Franklin said. “I’ve heard this from businesses back when I was on the council that we needed a chamber.”

As with most chambers, annual membership dues would support and sustain an Everett chamber. Fees are generally assessed on a sliding scale, depending on the size of the organization, Chism said.

“If we ever have a chamber, a mom and pop taqueria in South Everett is probably going to pay lower annual membership dues than a large manufacturing business,” he said.

Like other nonprofits, the chamber would be governed by a board of directors and employ a management team to conduct day-to-day operations.

Lloyd Eastman, the Everett Area Chamber’s manager, told The Daily Herald in 1974 that the chamber’s major responsibility “is to foster the community’s economic well-being, making Everett a better place to live.”

Those goals are still relevant today, Chism told the council.

Chism, who moved here 18 years ago, said Everett is finally on the cusp of an economic revival.

“It’s really, really encouraging,” he said. “Tech-topia has taken over Seattle and is pushing out the creative economy. The creative economy is moving here. A chamber is going to be an important partner in helping us manage growth thoughtfully.”

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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