OSKALOOSA – The Mahaska Chamber and Development Group met for the first time as one entity during a social mixer on Nov. 21 to introduce their business plan and goals for year 2020.
In the past, the Oskaloosa Area Chamber Development Group, Mahaska Community Development Group, MainStreet Oskaloosa and Mahaska county Agriculture and Rural Development Group operated separately.
During a speech, Carri VandeRee, vice p-resident of the board for the newly formed group, said the Mahaska Development Partners Group was formed in 2017 to focus on the future partnership of the separate entities. This partnership is what resulted in the merger of the Mahaska County Development Group and Oskaloosa Area Chamber Development.
“With that partnership, we decided to have a merger between the Chamber and the Mahaska Community Development Group and bring that together as one partnership and by doing that we are now being referred to as the Mahaska Chamber and Development Group.”
A new board is also in the works of being created as a result of this merger, consisting of a mixture of former board members, reps from Main Street Oskaloosa, the Mahaska County Agriculture and Rural Development Group, and representation from the city, county and schools.
According to the President of the newly formed groups, James Feudner, last Thursday’s event was the first big step on merging the organizations together since signing the agreement to work together two years ago.
“So this is kind of the first official big move of the merger. I mean we’re looking at other ways to be more efficient to use our members’ money but this is really the first huge step on merging together and operating more efficiently to use the members’ resources, the best way we can work.”
Under this partnership, the group has developed a plan to operate as one with four main priorities and a set of goals that will carry the community over the next 20 years, according to VandeRee.
The plan was also broken down with deadlines to accomplish goals for the first 90 days, one year goals, three year goals, and 20 year goals. The four committees include the workforce committee, the housing committee, the tourism and recreation committee and the business development committee.
The workforce committee will expose junior high and high school students to careers that are available in Mahaska County that should increase the workforce by 60 employees a year.
The Housing Committee will research the needs of senior housing and increase housing by 250 over the next 3-5 years, then up to 1000 in 20 years.
The Business Development Committee will work on business growth and retention, as well as recruitment and infrastructure. This committee will also work towards identifying available lots and buildings and marketing them.
The tourism and recreation committee will explore options for increasing hotel taxes by 2 percent and updating the website to feature events, business and tourism opportunities.
Feudner said the average person may not see much of a change in the community right off, but these four committees are the top priorities for the Mahaska Chamber and Development Group.
“Well you know for Joe Public, they’re probably not going to see a lot, you know, immediately,” he said. “The thing where it’s important is the four priorities we talked about, the housing, workforce, business development, and tourism/rec is what’s going to be different as we’re all on the same page. That includes the county, the city, and all the groups we just talked about, so in theory, we should get more done and we’ll be able to hold each other accountable because now we have action plans and objectives and goals. We know where we want to be in one year, three years, and 20 years.”
Volunteer opportunities were also a major topic at the mixer as the group is in need of more volunteers from the community. Carri VandeRee said it easy to get involved and volunteer all you would need to do is call the chambers office and they will connect you with the group or organization that will best suit you according to what individuals’ likes and dislikes are.
“I would say you would contact the chamber office. Tell them that you’re you’re wanting to be involved in something, and ask what is available for you. Hopefully tell them what your likes are so they can pair you up with something that matches your likes or your skills. ‘What do you have to offer?’ ‘Well let’s put you on this committee.’ You know there’s several, several options out there. And we want the people on those committees that’s of interest to them. So maybe you don’t have any interest in housing, building, or any of that type of stuff or you’d rather do something to help out with the library or the schools we can connect you, the chamber office can connect you with something that’s of your interest.”
Commerce Committee volunteer and former Chamber board member Brian Myers said he’s volunteered his time and assistance for the last five years and he has gotten so much out of it.
“It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot from people, which a lot of people say when you volunteer they don’t understand what you learn, but you get to see a whole new aspect or the other side of the coin. A lot of times I tell people, ‘it’s self-rewarding, but it’s more,’” he said. “It’s knowing that I’m helping my community get better and making the future better not only for Oskaloosa but for my kids. I always feel like it’s not about me anymore it’s about the youth. And so to me it’s important to make sure that we pave the path for them and make it a better place.”