By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – To expand its reach within the business community, the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce is rebranding itself with a new name: South Kitsap Chamber of Commerce.
During the COVID-era, the pro-business group also has come up with innovative ways to promote local businesses and enable business owners to network.
“The City of Port Orchard is 11.2 square miles. The area of South Kitsap is 360 square miles, so to call ourselves the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce, conceivably we’d be neglecting 348 miles worth of territory,” said Matt Murphy, the organization’s president and CEO.
“What we were really looking for is to represent all of the South Kitsap interests,” said Murphy, a fourth-generation resident of South Kitsap who has headed the chamber for six years.
“Many people think they live in Port Orchard and actually don’t, even though their zip code is 98366 and their mailing address says ‘Port Orchard.’ People don’t really how small Port Orchard is,” Murphy added.
The new name expands the reach of the chamber to areas such as Manchester, South Park, Olalla — and the areas east of Walmart and south of Sedgwick on Bethel, he said.
Adding the South Kitsap name to the organization will make businesses outside the city feel more welcome, he said. The chamber is a nonprofit organization that comprises 250 businesses, civic organizations, educational institutions and individuals.
Having a broader power base will increase the chamber’s political clout, he added.
“We are trying to play a larger role in decision-making on the part of government.”
The chamber has a seat on several community action committees, including the Port Orchard Police Department’s strategic advisory board, which just released a five-year plan for the department, the South Kitsap School District’s facilities planning committee, and the Gorst coalition executive committee.
Time to evolve, adopt
Since the pandemic surfaced, the chamber has had to adapt to new techniques to connect business leaders.
In pre-COVID times, the group would hold networking and educational events, including monthly luncheons and after-hour gatherings where business owners could socialize and make professional connections, Murphy said.
These days, however, those events are staged over Zoom.
“BYOC [bring your own coffee] are morning opportunities for business owners to get together and discuss [via technology] what they are going through,” Murphy said.
Topics have included how to obtain personal protective equipment for employees and how to apply for COVID-related government grants.
Early in the pandemic, BYOC events were held weekly. Over time, however, attendance waned. Now that the economy is recovering, the chamber is bringing back the virtual discussions. The first one is slated for Feb. 24. The event is open to non-members. Participants can register on the chamber’s Facebook page.
The chamber also started a YouTube channel that features interviews with local business owners and virtual job fairs, where companies spotlight employment opportunities. Prior to the November election, the channel ran interviews with candidates who discussed their positions on local economic issues.
Over recent months, the chamber’s website became a clearinghouse of information needed by businesses, the organization’s president/CEO said. Details were provided about the latest proclamations by Gov. Jay Inslee, new grants available for small businesses and the latest updates to health regulations.
In addition to changing its name, the chamber is revamping its website to make it more aesthetically pleasing and “user friendly,” Murphy said. The chamber’s new website will highlight businesses and events in and around South Kitsap, and is set to debut later this month.