Whitney Stohr joined the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce (AACC) in September as the new Chamber Communications Connector. In her new position, Stohr will manage the chamber’s digital marketing presence and social media outreach, website, blog, and related communications. As a recent transplant to Auburn, Stohr brings fresh eyes and new ideas to the chamber.
With prior experience as a digital marketing firm CEO and the Executive Director of Selah Downtown Association, Stohr is definitely someone entrepreneurs, and local businesses can learn from and seek out as a valuable resource.
“I look forward to stepping into this new role,” said Stohr in the AACC’s announcement. “I love working with local businesses and helping business owners find new ways to grow their influence and thrive in the community.”
Auburn Examiner: For someone who doesn’t know what a chamber of commerce does, how would you best describe the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce?
Whitney Stohr: A chamber of commerce is simply an organization or association of entrepreneurs and businesses whose goal is to support and promote the local business community. The AACC serves the greater Auburn business community, including Algona and Pacific, by providing leadership and a forum to promote, enhance and encourage business growth.
AE: What do you bring to the AACC from your time as the Executive Director of the Selah Downtown Association?
WS: Before moving to Auburn, I served as the executive director of the Selah Downtown Association, a nonprofit organization located in the Yakima Valley. [Selah Downtown Association] was founded in 2014 to develop and promote downtown Selah, WA, as the community’s social, cultural, and economic center. That organization is part of a state-wide network, known as the Washington State Main Street Program. The goal of that larger network is to enable leaders in communities across the state to revitalize and transform city centers that were once thriving, historic downtown districts. Community-based Main Street Programs advance this mission by working with local entrepreneurs to strengthen the local business community through economic development efforts, beautification projects, historic preservation, and community engagement. It requires a broad range of experience and high-level knowledge of a myriad of issues that impact the city and wider region. At Selah Downtown Association, I was the only staff member and, therefore, solely responsible for all operations, programs, and projects. It was a memorable experience, and I very much enjoyed the relationship-building aspect of that job.
AE: What do you feel are some economic development challenges for the Auburn area?
WS: The Auburn area has a lot going for it. Being new to western Washington, my family chose to move here because it was obvious, even as visitors, how much was being invested in community improvement projects and how many people cared and were working to make this community an economically stronger and more vibrant place. Downtown Auburn, for me, was a positive, visual representation of these efforts. With my background in downtown revitalization, what immediately jumped out was the work that was being done downtown. The emphasis on mixed-use development and options for downtown living; those beautiful, wide sidewalks; the light poles and hanging flower baskets; an inviting City Hall building located right in the center of the district; and so much art! Those elements spur economic development because they improve the urban environment and the experience of being in a historic district. When we first visited downtown Auburn, prior to moving here, I remember turning to my husband and saying: “This area is going to take off!” It was clear to me the extent to which this area is poised for growth because of the investment made to improve the downtown area. Downtown districts are a meter by which we can gauge the potential for future growth and economic success.
From an economic development standpoint, however, there is always room for improvement. I would love to see more businesses fill the empty spaces in downtown Auburn, as well as more diversity in the types of businesses located downtown. Of course, more locally owned retail and restaurants would be a great addition and would draw more people out. Downtown areas often have the advantage of walkability, so surrounding businesses benefit from giving people more of a reason to come downtown and linger for a while as they drift from shop to shop. Building out a community’s core business district and transforming it into *the* place that people want to be should always be a top priority.
Another challenge related to economic development and business success and retainment — and one that is directly related to my position at the AACC — relates to marketing and digital know-how. To be successful, a business — any business — must be able to identify who their customer base it, or who they serve, and how to reach that group. In the modern world, this increasingly requires a strong digital presence. Large companies have no problem with this because they can hire experts in public relations, marketing, and digital engagement. But, for small and some mid-sized businesses, it’s a much greater challenge. Digital communications and marketing is a full-time job, and most business owners and management personnel don’t have the time to invest themselves in this way. They’re trying to run a business after all! They also may not have the personal experience or knowledge of websites and social media platforms to effectively engage their customer base online and may not yet have the funds to hire someone else to step into that role. It’s a tough situation because you know, as a business owner, you need to be online, but you can’t identify a way to make that happen. As a Chamber, we can help these businesses.
AE: How will you best help address these challenges in your new position with the chamber?
WS: Maintaining membership with a strong, local chamber of commerce, and then being active in the organization, is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable investments a business owner can make in their own enterprise. After all, the whole goal of a chamber is to support and promote its business community! And, the role that chambers play in strengthening that community and those individual businesses, is an important aspect of economic development, business growth, and retention on a community-wide scale. Chambers offer business owners networking opportunities, educational opportunities, and marketing opportunities. Regular networking events provide businesses the chance to meet other business owners, cultivate friendships and local connections, and maybe identify experienced mentors and other entrepreneurs that they can reach out to for business advice. Educational workshops and training sponsored by chambers introduce businesses to new ideas and valuable skills necessary to compete and succeed in the modern business world.
Lastly, chambers are an indispensable vehicle for business promotion and can be viewed by chamber membership as partners in marketing. If fully engaged by business owners, chambers can help widely market business events, promotions, and services in our communities. This is where I will largely focus my time and effort as the new Communications Connector at the AACC. My past experience leading a downtown association, while working with the small business community and promoting revitalization of a core, business district, was critical to my understanding of both the challenges and opportunities available to businesses in small- and mid-sized cities.
AE: What are some things you’re excited about bringing the chamber in your new position?
WS: I’m looking forward to stepping into this role. I appreciate the fact that the “connector” aspect of my position is right there in the job title. I have always seen myself as that type of person — a connector, a networker, an engager, so, of course, that will be helpful! I also view myself as a storyteller, which is essential when you’re in a position focused on communication and social sharing. Being able to condense information and tell the story of a business or the history of some aspect of the community is an important skill. I also have that prior experience working with small business owners and playing an active role in community improvement projects. I look forward to putting that experience to work in the Auburn area.
AE: How do you feel social media has changed the way business is done in today’s society?
WS: It’s more challenging to pinpoint ways in which social media hasn’t impacted how we do business. From a marketing and digital communications perspective, the advice I would give to any business owner is: 1. You absolutely need a website! You would be amazed by how many businesses today still aren’t online. No matter what your business is, what you sell, or what service you provide, you still need a functional website. And 2. You need to utilize social media. It is a free marketing tool! And, I promise you, customers care whether or not you are on social media. Now, depending on the industry, some platforms are more useful than others; but, at the very least, every business should be on Facebook, and they should regularly post and engage with their followers. It is essential in today’s world.
Think about it: If you are in need of a repair or maintenance service of some kind, if you want to go out to eat, shop for a specialty item, or just schedule a haircut, what do you do first? Most people go immediately online and search for a business near them that meets that need. If your business is not online, or if it lacks a professional website or doesn’t have regular engagement via social media, you will be overlooked by potential customers.
AE: How will your experience in digital marketing help with promoting the Auburn area chamber and its members?
WS: As the Communications Connector, my job responsibilities extend to social media management, the community calendar, and weekly membership newsletters, videos, blogs, and other articles and communication pieces. Each of these are opportunities to help promote the AACC, our members, and business partners. Each of these offers me the opportunity to tell the story of this community through a business lens.
AE: You’re new to Auburn. Why did you choose Auburn?
WS: I am new to Auburn! I moved here with my son Malachi in August. Malachi has a disability called Spina Bifida that requires ongoing medical care and therapy. I wanted to move to this side of the state to be near his specialists and the emergency services available at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Auburn was a nice, mid-sized community, with an emerging downtown and accessible sidewalks, which are an absolute must-have when you have a kiddo in a wheelchair! I also love the location of Auburn. It is close enough to Seattle to benefit from the “big city” amenities when needed, but small enough to still have that hometown feel. My husband and I also saw a lot of potential job opportunities here.
AE: You’ve been documenting your exploration of Auburn on Instagram. What are you most excited about in your new home?
WS: That’s actually how I got this job! I had no idea the chamber was hiring, and Kacie Bray, Chamber CEO, saw my posts and reached out via Instagram. But, it’s true; I do share a lot on my personal pages and have focused on Auburn since my move. It’s probably a combination of my background in the Main Street Program and my urbanist flair, but I love sharing stories and photos that highlight all the great things about cities: the public art, elements of walkability, placemaking projects. I see the beginnings of that in Auburn, and, to me, that is really exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing how this city changes and grows in the next few years.
AE: Tell us something you’re passionate about (besides economic development):
WS: This is always a challenging question for me. There are so many things!
I will say, one thing I’m truly passionate about is community service. I believe every single person should be involved, in some way, as a volunteer in their community. I grew up in a private school community in Yakima that emphasized the importance of service to others, so I feel like some of that is well-engrained in me at this point in my life. But, honestly, I like volunteer work! I enjoy helping organizations that are doing good things in my community. It’s how I like to spend my free time, and, outside of spending time with my family, I believe it is one of the most worthwhile ways to invest my time and energy.
AE: If someone wanted to catch you outside of the chamber office, where would be the most likely place to find you in Auburn?
WS: Downtown! I live in the Trek Apartments, which, in my humble opinion, is just about the best location you can find here. I’ve always wanted to live in a city center, and here I am in downtown Auburn living above Main Street. I love it! I walk across the street to buy groceries, to pick up coffee in the morning, or grab a drink at night. I’m happy to be here. This community was really the best choice for my family.
To learn more about how the AACC can assist your business or organization, contact Stohr at [email protected].