Ex-Richland mayors revive the chamber of commerce

A pair of Richland business owners and former mayors is reviving the Richland Chamber of Commerce to restore the local connection between business and city hall.

The Richland and the Kennewick chambers merged in 2005 to form the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, a move calculated to give the Mid-Columbia’s business community a bigger voice at the state level.

The regional chamber fills a need, but the consolidation left a void in hyper local networking, according to David Rose and Rob Welch, the two men driving the effort.

They say they miss the opportunity to network with fellow business owners, to know city leaders by name and to hear from city staff about what’s happening in the community. Most cities, large and small, have chambers. Richland needs one, they say.

There are more than 200 individual chambers in Washington state.

“We want the mom-and-pop business owner to know who the fire chief is,” said Welch, who owns a heating and air conditioning business.

The revived chamber is relaunching with a luncheon on Sept. 20 at 3 Margaritas, 627 Jadwin Ave. Reservations are required. Call 509-987-4003 or email Welch at RobWelch222@gmail.com for information or to attend. Richland police Chief Brigit Clary is the featured guest.

Rose and Welch say it will be up to the future board to set a direction, but the present plan is to meet regularly on the second Tuesday of each month.

The Tri-City Regional Chamber said it has no position on the revived Richland chamber.

Rose and Welch say they’ve been heartened by the support of the area’s smaller chambers and are not in conflict with the regional group.

The Pasco and West Richland chambers of commerce did not merge into the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber and continue to operate within their respective cities. To Rose and Welch, they are models for the new Richland version.

Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco chamber, welcomes the revived chapter and said the Tri-City business organizations have a history of cooperating on joint ventures such as October’s RiverFest event.

Pasco voted against joining the regional chamber to preserve its agricultural identity. Having its own chamber preserves Pasco’s voice within the city, he added.

The West Richland Area Chamber of Commerce supports the effort and is helping with administration until it gets on its feet, said May Hays, executive director.

The regional chamber does an excellent job of advocating for the Tri-Cities, but she said there’s room for a business-oriented group that focuses on city-specific issues.

Rose and Welch both are longtime business owners on the cusp of retirement. Both recall the supportive relationships they developed through the original Richland chamber. Restarting it is their gift to the future and those who want Richland-focused events, from meetings to ribbon cuttings to holiday soirees.

“This is for the next generation,” said Welch, who is selling Welch Heating & Air Conditioning. He expects to keep working as a consultant. Welch, who served on the city council in the early 2000s, including two terms as mayor, found he longed for the supportive connections the old Richland chamber fostered.

“I’ve missed that camaraderie and friendship. It’s hard running a business,” he said.

Rose, owner of Northwest Rentals and a host of other businesses, is semi-retired and weary of spending weekday afternoons watching reruns of “Gunsmoke” on television. He missed being involved in the life and gossip of the community.

When Welch called to ask about restarting the chamber, it was an idea he’d been toying with. The two began meeting and recruited an accountant, who filed the paperwork to create the new entity. The new Richland chamber does not yet have a website or an email of its own.

It does have a pair of oversized scissors ready for ceremonial ribbon cuttings.

The meetings with Welch and with neighboring chambers helped both men reconnect with the community and relearn the value of seeing leaders face to face. Rose said he visited with business, port and city officials he hadn’t talked to since he left the city council in 2018.

They both recently toured the new Richland City Hall, built on Swift Boulevard after they left office. Their work to restart the chamber opened the door for a glimpse at the new center of municipal government, they said.

Rose said there are plenty of activities a small chamber can take on to foster community pride.

In the 1980s, he managed the former Richland chamber’s parade float, which appeared at events around the region. The tradition disappeared and he donated it to the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

Membership will be open to all businesses, but the focus will be on Richland and fostering conversations between business and the city.

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