Somerton chamber rebounds, works to stimulate economy
SOMERTON — Not even two years ago, the future of the Somerton Chamber of Commerce was in limbo, owing to declining membership as well as lack of participation in chamber activities by businesses that remained as members.
That prompted the then-president of the chamber to suggest that the organization consider disbanding.
Today, the chamber has a new slate of officers and a renewed commitment to representing Somerton's businesses and the economic interests of the city.
The chamber's board is now composed of Shaun Cassidy, serving as its executive director, Dalia Camarillo, membership coordinator, and Angela Gallardo, treasurer.
Cassidy, already serving as the city's economic development coordinator, was named by the Somerton City Council in December 2011 to serve as executive director of the chamber, which had been inactive since May of that year. The three have been working to restructure the chamber and build up membership to its former levels, all while managing a campaign to urge residents to spend their money at Somerton businesses.
Camarillo says efforts to revive the chamber go hand in hand with the shop locally campaign.
“It's a huge task,” she conceded. “The merchants are discouraged. This was supposed to be the busy shopping season, but it hasn't gone like in years before. But we are optimistic, and we believe in Somerton. We believe we are a unique community and that we can do different things than other communities.
Camarillo, herself the owner of a Somerton business, says she believes the chamber is entering a new era, one in which it will gain the confidence of the city's merchants and convince them to return as members.
In the newly reorganized chamber's first meeting recently, she said it attracted about 40 area merchants, many of whom are committed to returning to the ranks of the organization.
“We are basically starting from zero. We are going to create a new roster of members. In the meeting, the first 10 signed up as members. We lower the dues from $80 to $40, and we are going to continue to meet in different places in order to promote the local restaurants.”
In April, she added, the chamber will host its first event since its restructuring: the second annual Somerton Business Expo, at which the organization hopes to attract at least 25 area businesses and other organizations as participants.
Ana Bella DeAnda, who operates a Somerton business that sells salsa, was among the first to join the reorganized chamber.
“I think that if we start to promote ourselves to attract more people to Somerton from such places as Yuma or the Foothills, that can be beneficial for us. This is the beginning. I see it as something good, something very positive.”
Her husband Paul — Somerton's fire chief who helps her with the business — said what is necessary now is for residents and merchants to regain a sense of civic pride.
“That pride in the city has been lost. We need to feel that pride. We have a lot to offer. Somerton is a wholesome, orderly city. We don't have the problems that the big cites have.”
At the time he raised the idea of disbanding the chamber, then-President Jose Yepez, also a city councilman, suggested that existing members' dues be refunded to them. But City Hall, which had originally contributed $25,000 to start up the chamber, named Cassidy to oversee the restructuring.
Camarillo says the chamber wants to leave its previous struggles in the past.
“We want people to see that the chamber is different and we want them to accept this new structure. We have found that the people open their hearts to us wherever we go and that they see us as lifesavers. And that's what we want to do — give them hope that we can work and improve the economy and the environment in general for business.”