With a new executive director, the months-old Back Mountain Chamber of Commerce is growing membership and gaining a strong foothold in the Back Mountain community and beyond.
Clare Parkhurst was recently hired as the chamber's part-time executive director, but she said it's more of a full-time job.
She manages to work for the chamber while also maintaining her own business, Black Sheep Advertising, located in Trucksville.
"It's a juggle, but I knew that going into it because it's in the beginning stages when we have to get things from the ground up working," she said.
Parkhurst was on the board of the Back Mountain Business Association in the past, and she believes the creation of the chamber has reinvigorated the sense of community amongst business owners and others in the region.
"There's just a perception that a chamber is more of a legitimate (organization)," she said.
Parkhurst said the business association began in 1992, and likened the start of the chamber to a 20th anniversary celebration for Back Mountain businesses involved.
Chip Morgan, co-founder of the chamber and owner of Wilkes-Barre Bookkeeping in Dallas Township, said the idea for the chamber came at a time when the Back Mountain Business Association was losing members.
"We had 110 (members), and they were loyal members, but at one time we had over 200 members," said Morgan.
Morgan said the business association was made possible solely by volunteers, and many of the same people were doing the work, in addition to running their own businesses.
"It was the same people over and over and over again, and like any organization, it gets tiring," said Morgan.
Though the chamber aims to remain mostly volunteer-based, Parkhurst said the new organization can offer much more with an executive director and assigned committee members.
"I've got a lot of support," said Parkhurst. "(The committees) take a lot of responsibility off my plate."
Morgan said the chamber initially did a vast search for an executive director, but found qualified candidates from out of the area that might not be able to meet the needs of the community.
"They didn't have the context and didn't have the love for the Back Mountain," said Morgan. "That was huge."
Parkhurst applied for the position because of her own ties to the community – she was born and raised in the area, met her husband in the Back Mountain and set up her home and business in the community.
"It was kind of a natural fit," said Morgan.
Parkhurst's main focus is membership – and members are pouring in from all over the area. Morgan said the organization has members from outside the Back Mountain for the first time ever.
"We've got new members from Swoyersville, Bear Creek, Wilkes-Barre, Pittston – it's not just Back Mountain business members," he said. "We have to be a community, even though they're outside of our geographic jurisdiction."
The chamber is also working to improve relations with the community. Morgan said the Back Mountain Chamber of Commerce is the first in the country to include governments, schools, cultural venues, churches and civic organizations.
"It's not just commerce to commerce," said Morgan. "People are spending money elsewhere when they should be spending it right here in the Back Mountain."
Morgan said the chamber plans to offer community surveys to understand why families are doing their grocery and other shopping outside the area. The feedback will help improve business in the area, he said.
Now the organization is busy planning its first business expo as a chamber at Misericordia University on April 18. The group partnered with the Back Mountain Historical Association's bi-annual program, which will be about the former Hanson's Amusement Park that was located in Harveys Lake.
Morgan said the idea was to draw more people to both events. He said there are plans to offer food throughout the expo that would have been offered at Hanson's, like French fries, pizza and cotton candy.
To learn more about the Back Mountain Chamber of Commerce, visit www.backmountainchamber.org or call the chamber offices at 675-9380.