Business

Chamber tops 400 members

A church helped the business-oriented Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce reach a major milestone.

When Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church joined the chamber earlier this year, it became the 400th member, the first time the chamber has reached that total.

Priscilla Heistad, executive director, said most businesses join the chamber “for networking with other businesses.” Many members sit on one or more committees, and each month there are two social events: a luncheon and after hours gathering hosted by a different business each month.

Sovereign Grace isn’t the only church among the member, and there are a number of non-profit organizations as well. Such organizations “need to go where the people are,” Heistad noted.

Robert Van Kooeten, pastor of Sovereign Grace, said his church joined “to have a little exposure.” He has attended two meetings as well as a luncheon, and discovered that “they have a fun time.”

Chamber membership has another big plus for his small church, which meets Sundays in the Seventh-Day Adventists’ building on Highway 20. The chamber offers an opportunity to purchase health insurance through Group Health.

Heistad said many small businesses can’t afford insurance, but by joining the island-wide chamber group the costs are reduced. Sovereign Grace’s pastor and its board members are eligible to enroll. Van Kooten said his board members have other insurance, but the insurance covers him, his wife Jenee, and their three young sons.

In addition, the church purchases the chamber’s list of people who have inquired about moving to the community. “We send them a letter and invite them to visit,” he said.

Three years ago the chamber was celebrating its 300th member, according to Heistad. Since then it’s continued to grow at a record pace. She no doubt deserves much of the credit, but she gives it to Sande Mulkey, the chamber’s part-time membership coordinator. “Her job is to attract and retain members,” Heistad said.

Since Grace Sovereign became number 400 last spring, a dozen other businesses have joined. “We want to have every business on board,” Heistad said.

The membership fee varies based on number of employees, starting at $160 annually for one to four employees. For information call 675-3755.

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