Fraser may finalize leaving Chamber on Wednesday
December 5, 2016
Fraser is considering withdrawing the town board's funding to the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber. The matter was brought up at the November 16 Town Council meeting. Five members of the board were in favor of the move, while two were not. Fraser contributed $74,940 to the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber. The Fraser board does not need to vote on the matter because it will be included in approving the 2017 budget, which may be approved at their December 7 meeting.
In a phone interview today, December 5, Fraser Mayor Philip Vandernail said the board has discussed whether or not the town would continue funding the Chamber for the last few years.
According to their economic development plans, Fraser wants to develop their own business community with additions of more employee housing, restaurants, and shopping. Those in favor of withdrawing from the Chamber said they wanted to use the money that is normally spent on the chamber to pursue other business development.
"Our consultants have been telling us for years that we need to step off Winter Park’s coattails and market Fraser so people know who, what and where we are located," Vandernail said. He pointed out that Fraser has more acreage for development than Winter Park and lower taxes, and they need to market these aspects to potential new businesses.
At the November 16 meeting, the majority of the Fraser board agreed that the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber is mostly focused on getting tourists to the valley, but it is Fraser's job to get the visitors in their businesses. In order to do this, the board discussed the potential of hiring their own business recruiter/marketer to do this job instead of the chamber. Another concern amongst the board was fear that the new grocery store coming to Winter Park would further hurt Fraser's economy.
Board members Andy Miller and Katie Soles disagreed stating that pulling out from the Chamber funding is a bad image for Fraser's integrity. They both agreed that the towns of Fraser and Winter Park need each other. Miller and Soles said they felt Fraser should contribute at least some to the Chamber.
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Vandernail discussed the potential of hiring a marketing-based position for the town. Fraser does not currently have a Facebook page that is run by the town, and Vandernail said this is something they should have. The person in the marketing position would help contribute to Fraser's online and social presence, but the job's requirements and focuses are still in the early phases of development.
"We want to return our investments, and we are not seeing it come back to us right now," Vandernail said.
Catherine Ross, Executive Director for the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber, said Fraser's withdrawal would not change the Chamber's focus. "We want to make sure that businesses feel confident that we are staying focused on our purpose," Ross said.
Ross pointed out that the money from the town of Fraser was used for marketing, events, and economic development, and that the Chamber will have to find another source of income to fill the shortfall that Fraser's withdrawal would leave. She said that every member of the Chamber is equal to them, and they strive to have members be successful.
Ross stated that the town of Fraser's absence would definitely be a challenge for the Chamber, but they will try to rise up to it. "The Chamber is completely committed to our members; no matter where they are geographically," Ross said.
Ross stated that the purpose of the Chamber is to help businesses be successful, and they plan to keep helping regardless of location. "Fraser is doing what the town feels is right," she said.
Fraser has made several other moves to further their image and attractiveness to tourists and businesses including the addition of an Economic Advisory Committee and a Public Arts Committee, both of which are paid committees, that will be included in the 2017 budget expenditures.