Close to 100 people attended the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce annual Membership Appreciation dinner Nov. 8 at Sierra Sky Ranch, a gathering described by Darin Soukup, chamber executive director, as "a little bit like a family reunion."
"It's a time for us to relax, mingle and enjoy each others company," Soukup said.
He outlined the three "prongs" of the chamber's economic development emphasis, including helping existing businesses thrive and expand in the area; business creation and capitalizing on the area's economic possibilities and working together; and attracting new businesses.
"Shopping local is important but we also need new dollars to circulate in our economy," Soukup said. "We also need to focus on locally owned businesses that sell at a national level."
While membership numbers are down from last year, the decline is not unique to the Mountain Area, he said, something he learned recently while attending an economic development class at California State University. Yet while the membership attrition rate is not as good as it could be, "we're holding our own," he added.
Soukup reported the chamber paid off $22,000 of debt since last year, and raised $2,000 from beer and wine sales at the Coarsegold Peddlers Fair in May and $10,000 from the Oakhurst Fall Festival in October.
Items that represent Oakhurst at any time over the past 100 years are being sought for a town time capsule, to be buried by the Centennial Committee of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 16 at Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park. Those interested in donating can contact the chamber at (559) 683-7766.
Nominations are also being sought for the chamber's Man, Woman and Business of the Year, to be awarded at the chamber's annual installation dinner on Jan. 11.
New chamber officers for 2013 will be: President Gregory Chappel, Jamison and Chappel; President Elect Todd Miller, Miller and White CPA's; Secretary Dan Rule, Sierra Tel A Family of Companies; Treasurer Mike Sullivan, Sullivan's Tire Pros; and Past-president Janet Stanovich, Certified Emergency Manager.
New chamber directors for 2013 will be: Chris Baker, Digital Mirrors; Don Eaves, Yosemite Bank, Oakhurst branch; Andrew Pence, W.J. Bradley; Stephanie Simonian, 47th Place Carpet One; and Ted Roache, Sierra Sky Ranch. Returning directors who will also serve in 2013 include David Nemeth, Rick Hlava and Randy Papike.
"As members, you have expressed your support in various ways, for example, by becoming sponsors, volunteering during chamber events, making a commitment to join the board of directors, taking a lead role in chairing a committee, and most importantly, continuing your membership from year to year," Stanovich said. "And for this, we extend our thanks and appreciation."
Sierra Star Publisher Betty Linn speaks
This year's guest chamber member speaker was Betty Linn, publisher of the Sierra Star newspaper, accompanied by editor Brian Wilkinson.
"First and foremost, we are proud to be part of this community, serving our readers for 56 years," Linn said. "Despite the rumors that newspapers are dying, we are proof that across the nation, community newspapers are thriving. According to National Newspapers of America, 74% of those surveyed read a local paper weekly, spending over 38 minutes reading their newspaper as their primary source of local news.
"There is a myth that no one reads newspapers -- well our stats prove we are not just surviving, we are growing. We have almost 10,000 weekly readers of the paper, and online, 82,000 monthly page views and an average of 20,000 'unique visitors.'"
Linn said the National Newspapers of America reported that eight out of 10 adults get their news from a combination of print and online, and that the Sierra Star is available in both mediums.
"I am also very proud of our small but mighty staff," Linn said. "A few months ago, your Sierra Star took home a most coveted award presented by the California Newspaper Publishers Association -- voted best newspaper of our size in the state along with receiving 12 awards in reporting, photography and design."
Linn said Sierra Star reporter Carmen George also won the McClatchy Company's President's Award in February for her reporting on tribal disenrollments at the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians -- taking first place throughout the company's community newspapers nationwide. George also "scooped" the Fresno Bee, breaking the story first which led to a similar story about Chukchansi disenrollments in the New York Times several months later, Linn said.
Linn touched on the Star's many advertising spreads available for area businesses, including holiday and sports pages, and the Women in Business insert. The Star also prints and inserts School News and the Blue Print newspapers several times a year.
Linn joked about the "fast-paced, ever-changing world" of the 21st Century.
"I know you all know about LinkedIn and Facebook, but now our younger generation are moving to Pinterest and Instagram and who knows what else," Linn said. "They even have segregated us to 'Millennials,' ages 18 to 34 -- 'Gen X,' 35 to 46 -- 'Young Boomers,' 47 to 56 -- 'Older Boomers,' 57 to 65 -- and the 'G.I. Generation,' 66-plus."
Editor Wilkinson followed Linn, highlighting the Star's comprehensive coverage of education, county government, the business community, sports and interesting feature stories.
"Our feature stories about people of the Mountain Area are always insightful, entertaining and often emotional," Wilkinson said. "We do them well."
"We couldn't do any of this without community support and we thank you from the bottom of our heart," Linn said.
Honored chamber members
The Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce awarded certificates of appreciation to area businesses who've been chamber members from 10 to more than 50 years.
50+ years: Sierra Star and Sierra Tel.
35+ years: Bass Lake Event Center (formerly Pines Resort), Emadco Disposal Service, Heartland Opportunity Center and Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
30+ years: Bryant Home Corporation, Century 21 Ditton Realty, Kraft & Lee Insurance Agency, Robert B. Lindley, Attorney at Law, Linn Law Offices, London Properties - Donna Pride, Myers, J.W. Inc., Northland Cable TV, Raley's Superstore, Sierra Physical Therapy, United Security Bank, Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
25+ years: Ameriprise Financial, Andrews Electric, Best Western-Yosemite Gateway Inn, Erna's Elderberry House, Golden Chain Theatre, High Sierra RV & Mobile Park, Macaulay Associates, Mountain Aire, Sierra Tel Business Center and Timberline Gallery.
20+ years: Boyer Temporary Personnel, Campora Propane Service, Chicago Title Company, Dorsey's Hallmark, Ferrellgas Co., Foster & Parker Insurance, Madera County Economic Development, Madera Radio Dispatch, Inc., Pizza Factory, Inc., George Smith, Tenaya Lodge, Walt Bannon Drilling, Western Sierra Nursery and Yosemite Bank.
Chamber Gold Sponsors: Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, Linn Law Offices, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and Sierra Tel A Family of Companies.
Dwayne Smith, owner of Oakhurst Construction, who attended the Nov. 8 dinner with wife and chamber member Donna Smith of Foster & Parker Insurance, won a one-night stay at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino at the dinner that he donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst's annual Christmas Tree Auction.