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The Chamber

November 30, 2012

The Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce is about to lose its leader.

We know that this is not exactly Front Page news, but it ought to be.

In other towns and cities, the Chamber is a big-time player in a variety of ways, and not just for the promotion of big and small business interests.

Strong chambers of commerce provide leadership in areas that stretch across the political and economic landscapes. There is hardly a government entity in the United States that does not take into account “what the Chamber has to say.”

In Mammoth, the Chamber of Commerce has not had much to say over the years. There are reasons for that, but before getting into the nitty-gritty, we’d like to offer a tip ’o the hat to Brent Truax, the volunteer executive director of the current Chamber.

Truax is the general manager of the Westin Monache property—a full-time job by any measure. By grabbing the reins of the Chamber, he has worked tirelessly in an under-appreciated position, and has had a clear goal as to what the Chamber could be and ought to be.

We asked him about that mission the other day, and in one of the best “elevator speeches” we’ve heard lately, he said, “It’s John Urdi’s job to get people here. Once they’re here, it’s our job to make things right for them.”

Fair enough, and we’re happy that Truax will still be a member of the Chamber’s board of directors.
Left unsaid, though, is that Mammoth is an odd duck.

Many Chambers also act as a town’s primary marketing and promotional entity. In Mammoth, we have Mammoth Lakes Tourism for that. Urdi, as chief of MLT, regularly chats with Truax in brainstorming sessions, trying to figure out what the Mammoth experience ought to be for the visitors who provide the town with its biggest—and only—asset.

In addition to yielding to MLT in marketing and promotion (and rightly so), its mission is muddled and it seems as if it always has been so.

We have a strangely bifurcated town. Put in simple terms, merchants on Main Street operate independently from merchants on Old Mammoth Road. All of them work independently from merchants in the Village, and everyone works independently from the biggest, baddest business out there: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

It’s a nasty, dog-eat-dog world in our little town, as close observers of the town’s planning commission have been shown recently.

The commission once again is plowing into a re-zoning effort that deals with signs, building heights, outdoor sales, and so on.

To a visitor, there is no centerpiece to all this effort. Mammoth in the summer often presents itself as a modified junkyard, with merchants seemingly working against each other rather than in concert.

At no time that we can recall has the Planning Commission said, “What does the Chamber think about this?”

We wish it weren’t so, but it is.

The Chamber puts on the Fourth of July Parade and Mammoth Rocks, and its series of mixers are terrific.

After that, then what?

We’d like to see the new executive director, whomever that may be, stand on what Truax created and turn the Chamber into a something that actually has clout.

We’d like to see the Planning Commission, the Town Council, the Recreation Commission, and others live in mortal fear of ignoring the Chamber, and work hard to include it in decision making.

If that were to happen, then that would be Front Page news indeed.

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