“Social capital provides the glue which facilitates co-operation, exchange and innovation.”
— The New Economy: Beyond the Hype
“The Chamber shall strengthen the identity and enhance the image of our business community.”
— Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce vision statement
It’s important for the reader to remember these numbers for later reference:
• 30.2 million
• less than 500
Last October, Lori Arce-Torres, executive director of the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce, and I met at Chinook Winds Casino Resort for a half-hour interview on her radio show.
It was her once-a-week venue to interview business owners, local movers and shakers, and blokes like me — talking about my work heading up an anti-poverty program in Lincoln County, Family Independence Initiative.
I’ve been “doing journalism” for a long time: since my late teens in Arizona. I’ve had my own radio show. I’ve won press awards for my newspaper and magazine writing.
Lori does a fine job laying down questions to get to the heart of the initiative I am helping the State of Oregon head up in order to determine the reality of working and struggling families in our county from their point of view. She gets into background questions, and looks for context not only for the project I am involved with, but also dives into my own narrative.
In one very elegant sense, Lori Arce-Torres is establishing yet another layer of her own social capital network — the very essence of how communities and individuals weather the storm of a tough economy and limited resources.
One might say Lori is all about social capital as the head of the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce.
She has only been at the helm of the chamber for three years, but her life — starting out in Blackfoot, Idaho, 56 years ago, to today — is defined by real-world links between groups and individuals. Her networking acumen — with friends, family networks, networks of former colleagues and so on — must have been front and center of how she landed the job in November 2016.
If there’s anything easy to understand about a small-town chamber it is how its unstated goal is to foster a divergent business community, which in turn creates shared norms, values and understandings in order to support local businesses.
Lori and talk about the relationship of businesses to their workers and, of course, how consumers — who make up the third leg of the “enterprise stool” — are the engine driving a successful business.
Back to the numbers
Lori shows me the carving (Lovell’s Burlworks) of the chamber’s tree for the Angels Anonymous event held on Dec. 8. The artwork is amazingly intricate but solid — a wood carving depicting “angel’s wings growing out of a twisted trunk.”
“The idea is people will take selfies in front of it,” she said, “acting as the trunk to the wings. Our chamber tree is around the theme, be an earth angel: Reduce, Reuse, Rejoice.”
The event in question, The Angels’ Ball, is an $85-a-ticket black tie auction to serve the poor in Lincoln City.
The idea is to help people in our community in need by raising money from dozens of business participants with their own unique themes. Some of the gifts under the chamber’s carving will be live plants and ornaments designed and made by 4th grade students at Sam Case — all from recycled materials.
Okay, back to those numbers: In the US, there are more than 30.2 million small businesses with 500 or fewer employees comprising 99.9 percent of all businesses.
Don’t think Amazon, Walmart or McDonald's — but rather imagine all those hotels, restaurants and standalone businesses, including those in strip malls, providing goods and services to the very people who make Lincoln City tick.
Supporting local businesses in turn strengthens the very fabric of a community through relationships with families dependent upon work. This in turn weaves a cultural, educational, recreational and spiritual web that we all hope envelopes our community in the form of public health, safety and well-being.
The idea behind a group of 300 business members with the chamber — all dues-paying participants — is to facilitate both networking opportunities and hands-on economic development. The very thread of how well these small businesses do is predicated on the well-being of their employees, Lori emphasizes.
Interestingly, when I ask her what she wanted to be when she was growing up, first she said, “a singer . . . Barbara Streisand was my mom’s favorite.” But then as she got older growing up on a farm near Idaho Falls, she decided, “I sort of like the idea of being an activities director for a nursing home.”
She ended up regularly visiting her father who was in a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients for eight years before he died.
Now fast forward — we are talking about the three legs to the other stool challenging young and not-so-old workers and families in Lincoln City: lack of affordable housing, lack of day care and lack of things to do.
One of the initiatives Lori is undertaking is studying the idea of siting day care facilities inside nursing facilities and retirement homes: “It’s good for the residents to be around these young children, and it helps our struggling families continue to go to work and stay here.”
She’s quick to point out how the chamber is always evolving to support different businesses. She also professes how millennials are not big into going to meetings. So new tools are being developed to lure more members and to gauge their businesses’ needs and wants.
For now, though, her husband Joey (from Puerto Rico), their 19-year-old track athlete son Gabe (at Western Oregon University), their two daughters Kandis (34, in McKinleyville, California) and Kamile, 32 (in Cloverdale), and now two recent additions — grandchildren — will continue to grow Lori’s social capital we have in the form of family and friends.
The reader can tune into Lori interviewing her own social capital network: “Chamber Chat,” on Monday mornings from 8:30 to 9 am on KBCH-1400 AM.
Why local matters: Part II
Lori talks about Idaho and her early LDS upbringing. Lori reiterates she has not been a practicing Mormon for her adult life.
There are, however, many in her family still wedded to the conservative groundings of the Latter-Day Saints.
Her formative years were pretty idyllic. “My job was to sing to the animals,” she says with a laugh. That was on a dairy cow farm, with all the Old McDonald’s livestock: calves to feed, horses, chickens, dogs, cats. They grew corn and wheat, and tilled one of those big quintessential gardens.
That was in Blackfoot, southeast of Idaho Falls. They were near the Blackfoot Indian Reservation.
Her mom came into the relationship with two children while marrying a man with two of his own from a previous marriage.
They had Lori and another child. Lori said that her mother, Melba, did not like the farm. At age 10, Lori saw that marriage end. It was the first case in Idaho where there was joint custody granted the mother and father.
She grew away from the Mormon faith and its attendant conservatism. She laughs and says her dad who was a practicing Mormon said, “The older I get, the nuttier the religion seems to get.”
She met her future husband Joey while both worked at the Bon Marche (later bought out by Macy’s) in Idaho Falls where he was the visual manager and she managed the kids and lingerie departments.
Lori sees her life in phases of the number “7”: she was with the Bon Marche 14 years; then, 14 more years with Maidenform; a solid 7 years with American Family Insurance; and, finally, 7 months with a mortgage company. For now, the three years she’ has been with the chamber is not near any iteration of that magic number.
It started with lingerie
Lori and Joey went on scouting trips to see where she might end up managing a Maidenform outlet. She asked him what he thought about Denver or Utah, and he told her both were too much like Idaho, geographically and weather wise. California was off the table.
“We’d never been out here, and it was Saint Patrick’s Day 1994 when we went west to visit Portland and then Lincoln City.” Two months later, they were living in a studio apartment at the Surftides with the girls — second and fourth graders.
“My older daughter Kandis told me I had ruined her entire life moving out here. I remember that huge storm, the one that blew off the roof of Izzy’s. I remember the rain was hitting us sideways.” Two months later, they found a house in Lincoln City. They have been there ever since.
It was that job and promotion as district manager that finally precipitated her change of careers. “I had been missing out of so much of the kids’ lives. My weekends were traveling and training for Maidenform.”
She recounts how one Friday she was driving south on I-5 coming from Seattle when she got a call from the Lincoln City day care saying her son Gabe had not been picked up. However, it was a family reunion in Joseph, Oregon, that convinced her it was time to leave retail — she had to get up at 3 am to drive from Joseph to staff the Troutdale store.
“The universe tells us you have to be happy,” she said. “Change was inevitable.”
Baseball and Field of Dreams
Lori was at her son’s baseball game when she was looking at the banners encircling the outfield. “I saw my banner on the field.”
American Family Insurance kept calling her, and eventually Lori went into the insurance field. She was on paid salary for four years. Three years later — for a total of seven — she quit and then tried her hand in the mortgage game. That lasted seven months.
Luckily for Lori, she had been a member of the chamber for five years prior and had served as the chamber board president.
“I thought I knew what a director did. Boy was I wrong. It’s a really diverse job not just focused on one thing. We are pulled in many directions.”
The challenge of the job — deciding what the priorities should be day to day, month to month — is also what puts spring in her step, so to speak.
We talk a bit about the local chamber versus the US Chamber of Commerce, a rather onerous conservative lobbying agency (my take on it). I mention my own background in urban and regional planning working with economic developers, land developers, community and neighborhood organizations and all the other stakeholders in a small town such as Spokane where I did this sort of work and research.
I have always believed in the local multiplier effect having worked with some of people at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (LSR) and others who fight to keep local businesses local, as well as staving off the concentrated corporate power in order to strengthen local economies.
According to LSR, small businesses — which by definition are locally-owned — create two out of every three jobs in the US, employ half the private workforce, and generate half of private GDP.
Lori and I talk about keeping that Lincoln City business community robust, not only for stores to keep their doors open, but also because keeping money circulating locally — that’s called the local multiplier effect — becomes the foundation for a healthy and diversified local tax base.
More and more (and this might possibly be why millennials and younger folk are not engaged in Rotary clubs and local chambers) the local enterprises that used to give the places we call home their special character and identity — your favorite café, coffee shop, hobby shop, furniture store or bookstore — are succumbing to online powerhouses like Amazon, Walmart and even Target.
Ownership does matter. Lori’s very task as chamber director is to support locally-owned businesses as stakeholders in our community. If the owner lives here and raises a family here and sets down other roots here, there is a good chance he or she will have more at stake in Lincoln City than just the bottom line — profit.
Tourism is our industry
It’s obvious hotels and restaurants drive the tourism economy, and so everything radiates out from that center to all other businesses. Lori’s role is a bit different from that of the director of Newport City Chamber of Commerce, which gets financial support from the city.
Lori says the Lincoln City Chowder and Brewfest was a flashy event for three years running, but this year marked its first hiatus. These are costly events for any entity to put on. Most soirees like these leave the organizers in the red. The concept behind them is to attract people and future businesses to the area. That costs money her chamber doesn’t have.
More value for the buck, in a sense, is manifested in education and business conferences where breakout sessions and panels on marketing strategies, advertising, tourism and media outreach make much more sense. Those business conferences are called “Kick off the Season” and are held in May through the chamber.
Small towns traditionally have trouble keeping young people because there isn’t much for young single and family residents to do. Sure, visitors spend time eating out, beachcombing, lounging around, participating in certain seasonal events.
For young struggling families, however, these are not activities that keep the brood happy and engaged.
Lori also knows “small things” like city sign ordinances can take up a lot time from businesses and others in the form of meetings and hashing out old regulations and proposed changes. The feather banner is one such issue.
Technically, those wind-billowing flag signs are not legal in Lincoln City, but they haven’t been regulated. Some see them as unsightly, tacky, while businesses think they provide inexpensive and effective means of attracting the tourist’s eye.
Even the Oregon Department of Transportation gets into the conversation around sandwich and feather banner signs.
Another hot button issue for Lincoln City is the food truck debate — the city conducted a visioning study and the city discovered food trucks/food carts were on everybody’s list of wants and needs.
The current ordinance says that a restaurant truck with a motor (self-contained like an RV) is prohibited. Setting up food carts — trailer style food serving venues — are also somewhat contentious because brick-and-mortar food establishments feel they have an unfair advantage due to lower overheads.
Maybe an outdoor food truck area near the old Goodwill would be a win-win for both tourists and locals, as well as for the food truck vendors and the permanent restaurants. These are the issues Lori thinks about.
Travel takes off the blinders
Lori says she has not done a lot of overseas travel, with trips to Mexico pretty common. Just this past April, she ended up in England and Paris for 10 days with her two sisters. She was there when the “yellow vests” and others were protesting austerity measures by the French government. Huge protests and police responses that could be characterized as “riots.”
“What I learned on that trip was I wasn’t afraid to go anywhere,” she said. “And, we’re all basically the same. Their (Parisians’) lives are more condensed — smaller homes, cars and even food proportions. But they want what we want.”
In five years, the house will be paid off, she says, and Gabe will be on his way to some career tied to physical therapy or exercise science. She tells me she wants to travel more. Her husband Joey grew up in Puerto Rico, and she’d like to go there, too.
For now, though, she says she “is slowly being sucked in as my husband’s grease monkey.”
They ended up purchasing him a 1982 El Camino which he is putting his all into so the rig is “car show ready” by next summer. That was his Father’s Day gift. Lori said if she had her preference for her own classic car, it would be a 1969 Camaro or Mustang.
In the director’s own words
Paul Haeder: Your life philosophy in two sentences?
Lori Arce-Torres: Treat others how you want to treated...my kids heard this often growing up.
No News is Good News...meaning, don't worry about something until you need to.
I also love Ellen Degeneres’ saying, "I pick my friends based on how they treat their waiters, and where they leave their shopping carts.
PH: What do you like about the coast?
LA-T: There are so many things that I love about the coast; of course the unprecedented beauty, but not only in our surroundings, also the people that call Lincoln City home
PH: If you weren't doing what you are doing, what might you also want in your life?
LA-T: I've always wanted to work as an activities director in an assisted living facility.
PH: Who are big influences in your life — names and reasons why.
LA-T: My dad taught me to work hard and to be ok with whatever life throws at you, but never stop trying to make it better.
PH: Define "community" for me in your own words.
LA-T: A sense of belonging and acceptance.
PH: Give an example where you have helped someone in this line of business, in this role you have.
LA-T: My passion is to help businesses grown and get noticed. Sometimes just a simple reminder to look up and get outside of your businesses and meet new people. You never know who you'll be sitting next to at a chamber luncheon, or who you've just met at a Business After Hours that are in need of your services. People do business with people they like and trust. Not everything is done over the internet.
PH: Who would you like to interview on your radio show, and why?
LA-T: My dad. He was wise in so many ways, but I'd love to hear his take on our current political state.
PH: Where will you be mentally, physically and career wise in five years?
LA-T: I hope to be able to travel more. I believe traveling is the best way to expand your horizons, understand different cultures, all while helping to appreciate what you have at home.
PH: Define "hope" as you see it.
LA-T: To me, hope is the belief that things will get better.
PH: Define the word "Success."
LA-T: Success is when you get to the point of contentment. Being OK with where you are in life, whether it be with family, friends, or career.
Paul Haeder is a writer living and working in Lincoln County. He has two books coming out, one a short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” and a non-fiction book, “No More Messing Around: The Good, Bad and Ugly of America's Education System.”