New Executive Director to Reinvigorate the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce
December 4, 2015
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This is a great article from the Nisqually Valley News about our new Executive Director, Victoria Wortberg. Thanks to the NVN for letting us post the article in full on our blog site. Happy reading.
Chamber of Commerce Hires New Executive Director; Victoria Wortberg Has Experience as Business Owner, Trainer, Coach and Teacher
By Jenna Loughlin, Nisqually Valley News
Businesses in the Yelm area have a new champion who has walked a mile in their shoes.
Victoria Wortberg began her role as executive director of the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Sept. 7. She comes to the position as a former owner of five business — ranging from a $150,000 company to a $25 million company — and the founder of the statewide Washington Center for Women in Business program, a subset of the Thurston Economic Development Council.
“From the time I was a little girl, I was an entrepreneur selling something. … I know what it is to start a business and grow it and what it takes to be successful in owning and operating your own business,” she said. “I also have a strong background in coaching businesses and in training businesses to be successful.”
Wortberg has master’s degrees in social psychology and public administration, is close to completing her Masters in Business Administration and stays current in her field by teaching at Saint Martin’s University’s business school in Lacey. She is the fourth generation small business owner on her father’s side, and during her two years of work at the WCWB, which she grew to national prominence, she testified in front of the United States Senate in 2014 on issues related to women entrepreneurs and what the government can do to better support them from startup to growth.
“I believe that America is great because of small business and small towns. They create community in a way that big cities and large corporations don’t do,” Wortberg said. “(Small businesses) are the engine that creates jobs in this country. … It is small business that actually drives the American economy. And when we lose our small businesses in this country, we lose everything that has made America great. We also lose that personalized touch. … Economically, our country won’t survive without our small businesses thriving.”
Through her work as a trainer and coach for the EDC’s South Thurston Economic Development Initiative as well as the 10 years she lived in Yelm and Rainier, Wortberg is already familiar with many of the area businesses. She also knows YACC Board President April Sage through WCWB.
Her goals as the chamber’s executive director are to help all local businesses thrive, to promote the area as a place to shop, to create a sense of pride around what Thurston County can offer and to work with the board and the community to create a strategic plan. In order to accomplish that, Wortberg brings with her connections to EDC as well as contacts with lenders and angel investors.
This is not her first time dealing with a chamber of commerce. Wortberg has sat on five chamber boards in five different cities in multiple states including Virginia, Florida and Missouri.“I believe the chamber of commerce can be a vital link in a community,” she said. She took the position in Yelm because she saw an opportunity to be of service and loves to work with communities “to create magic.” With one of her companies, which was a community development firm, her role was to travel the country helping communities revitalize.
“I loved that work and spent a lot of time in volunteering, in working with communities,” Wortberg said.The key to a successful executive director is to promote the area, be a “cheerleader for the community,” to understand the dreams and goals of business owners and to help them achieve their desired outcomes. “You have to respect where the business owner is and provide the services that they need and want, not what you think they should do,” Wortberg said. “Owning a business is like having a baby, going to college and getting married all at the same time. It becomes a relationship that is constantly demanding something new of you. And my job is not to tell them what to do, but to provide the resources that they need to figure out what they’re going to do with this incredibly demanding child that never shuts up and how to even survive the challenges of being a small business owner in an economy that is just starting to pick back up.”She credits working with and learning from EDC Executive Director Michael Cade to leave her ego at the door and to collaborate.
The connection people who live in the Yelm area have to their town is a strength Wortberg sees, as well as the diversity among the area’s businesses.“I think this whole community is very solid; it’s basically a very healthy community … and you’ve got a lot of successful businesses who have been here for a long time,” she said. “There’s something charming about coming to shop in a small town. You get personality and uniqueness.”
One of the challenges Wortberg plans on tackling is creating a shared, comprehensive vision for the business community. To do this, she wants to speak with every business owner and invites any of them to contact her or stop by the chamber office.“I want to hear from business owners what they’re facing … so that I can learn what are the challenges for their individual business, what are the challenges for the industry that they’re in and what are the challenges for the community in general,” Wortberg said.
To that end, she wants to have the chamber office staffed 40 hours per week, but is still deciding what hours would be the most friendly to small businesses and is looking for input. Anyone who wants to share their thoughts can contact Wortberg or chime in on the chamber’s Facebook page.
Other challenges she sees are businesses being able to access the capital they need and to make Yelm a place people come to shop. Though Wortberg does not have a particular plan as to how to achieve the latter, she knows communities across the country have already found solutions and will look at those examples.
When it comes to the issue of how city government handles its small businesses, this is a topic Wortberg has dealt with on every chamber board she has been on.“I’ve never been in a community where that wasn’t a topic of conversation,” she said. “It’s almost to be expected. In every community, there is a need for the business community and government to continually improve their relationship. It’s not unique to here. That being said, I think, from what I’ve heard, everybody wants the same thing, which is a thriving community, which is great. So now it’s a matter of figuring out how to get there. I see tremendous potential for small businesses and the city to have a fantastic relationship. I hope that the chamber will play a role in that by being supportive in that process.”
Members of the Yelm Business Association have reached out to Wortberg and she is looking forward to meeting with them. Her job is not to take sides, but rather to find out where the two organizations agree and work together in the same direction. “From what I understand, we have the same goal, which is finding ways to help start up businesses and existing businesses to grow or to accomplish their dreams,” she said. “In that sense, we are completely in sync.”
Wortberg is the second executive director the YACC has hired since long-time executive director Cecelia Jenkins retired from the position in December 2014. On Monday, May 18, Sage announced in a press release that Casey Cochrane, who preceded Wortberg, was no longer with the organization.