Earlier this year Vance Bryce, executive director of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, pleaded for more funding from local governments and while he didn’t get all that he asked for, he was somewhat successful.
Thanks to the pandemic, the bed tax received through people staying at hotels plummeted during 2020, taking a huge chunk out of the chamber’s funding, Bryce said. Although funding issues were always a problem, the pandemic made them glaringly obvious, and Bryce said he knew it was time to ask for a change in funding from the local governments and organizations.
After meeting with each city council and the Graham County Board of Supervisors and pleading his case, Bryce said the chamber receive more than $13,000 in additional funding this year. Although it’s $45,000 less than what was originally requested, Bryce said it is still much more than what the chamber was receiving before. For example, the Town of Pima agreed to pay $5,000 annually when it had previously been paying $324 per year.
“I feel like this is what we anticipated. Ask for what you need and hopefully, it goes up. And it did, so that is good,” Bryce said.
Before the increase, the Town of Thatcher paid $7,000 and will now be paying $12,000 a year. Graham County paid $5,500 before and will now be paying $12,000.
Bryce had told the supervisors and city council members, there was a chance that without additional funding the chamber might before forced to limit the chamber’s advertising and events to the City of Safford alone. Now, he believes that won’t be necessary. He also warned he might have to eliminate a position; fortunately a chamber employee left before he was forced to follow through.
In fact, the chamber is proposing new events, including Pima Palooza, an event that will include the Pima Halloween trunk or treating tradition and haunted house. The Thatcher Cotton Days will be an event focused on agriculture, including a tractor pull and a farm equipment parade.
“We wanted to go big, but they are first-year events anyway, so they won’t be as big,” Bryce said. “We’re organizing them, we’re going to ask people to come out, and we’re going to learn because we won’t know until we do it.”
Originally, Bryce said the chamber was going to approach Eastern Arizona College regarding additional funding. However, EAC has been volunteering the use of their buildings for events and buses for transportation for years. Recently he has been tallying those in-kind contributions to make sure the college receives the proper amount of service from the chamber.
On Wednesday the chamber board approved next year’s budget.
According to a news release, new funding from Copper members, Bayacan and NatureSweet, at $12,000 in annual funding each, “will go a long way to making the Gila Valley Welcome Center an impressive first impression to tourists and guests.”
The chamber intends to put $3,000 per month into new tourism marketing and add $4,000 a year to the leadership program. The chamber building itself needs repairs to the roof, and $10,000 will go directly to renovations.
“We’re really grateful for the funds that we’ve been granted,” he said. “We feel really encouraged and excited. We can’t go big, but we’re not going home. We’re going to keep going, and we’re going to keep trying.”
Next year Bryce said he intends to visit each of the municipalities and request more funding support to further the goals of the chamber which include business development and tourism.