In the summer of 2022, the Washougal Business Association (WBA)’s new leadership group met for a full-day retreat at board member Greg Goforth’s residence to talk about the purpose of the nonprofit organization, which had basically gone dark months earlier, and what it could do to help the Washougal business community thrive.
The conversation wasn’t a short one. It wasn’t always an easy one, either; in the words of Washougal Mayor David Stuebe, a member of the WBA’s board of directors, they “pretty much blew up the WBA” and decided to start over. But in the view of the participants, it was necessary.
“It was a lot of work, but work that we were passionate about,” said board member Lori Reed. “We’ve got facilitators, people who are used to facilitating meetings, so we were able to facilitate a really good conversation and break down a lot of the things that we wanted to get to.”
More than one year later, their hard work is finally paying dividends. The WBA celebrated its relaunch with an open house event Oct. 12, at 54-40 Brewing Company, where it unveiled its new mission to support, attract and strengthen businesses for the Washougal community.
“It’s exciting,” Reed told the Post-Record. “(There’s no comparison) from where we were last summer to where we are now. There’s so much work that goes into it that people don’t even realize. People are quick to criticize, but everything is a process, and it goes slower than some people want. I’m like ‘fast, fast, fast,’ so even for me, it felt painful at times, but we wanted to take it slow and do it right and not make mistakes so that we could have this and be excited and be like, ‘We got our act together.’
“I think there’s a momentum that our town had initially, and the pandemic sort of squashed it, and unfortunately, a lot of organizations just couldn’t sustain it,” she added. “The businesses and organizations that survived the pandemic need to do something different to get that word out.”
Former Washougal City Councilman Paul Greenlee told The Post-Record he views the current WBA as a “reincarnation.”
“This is really the relaunch of the WBA,” Stuebe, the mayor of Washougal, said during the open house event. “The leadership is incredible — they have passion, they have energy. I’m really excited to see where this is going to go. I am so proud of the WBA for spending a lot of time coming up with the right vision, the right mission, and attracting the right leadership. I just see big things happening for all of (us).”
The WBA’s new board of directors includes Greenlee, a former Washougal City Council member; Reed, the owner of Reed Creative, a downtown Washougal graphic design and marketing firm; Kelly Bruce, a real estate agent and former owner of AllState Insurance in Washougal; Greg Goforth, an agent for Windermere Real Estate; Margaret Rice, the Washougal School District’s director of career and technical education; Bolt Minister, the owner of 54-40 Brewing Company; Steube; and Blaine Petersen, a financial adviser at Edward Jones in Washougal.
“There’s a different combination of personalities and different skill sets,” Reed said. “We’ve got school representation. We’ve got people who have been on the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce board. We’ve got a former city councilman. We’ve got other business owners. We’ve got somebody who just retired from General Motors and moved here and wants to do good in the community. We each bring a different leadership skill to the group from whatever industry we’re in, and we’re all high-energy. We’re relieved to have a really cohesive unit that works well together.”
The WBA will hold periodic networking events at member businesses, as well as monthly board meetings on the second Tuesday of each month, but will be less “event-focused” than it previously was, according to Reed.
“Events do help bring people in, so (I have) no criticism there,” Reed said. “But we were like, ‘Is that really the best tool?’ If (the board members have to) volunteer at all of the events, that can lead to burnout. We were thinking about how we could do it a little differently so that it’s more sustainable, so that it’s not just the board doing things, so that we could get (more people involved).”
The WBA will provide its members with opportunities to network with other business owners in the area, promote their businesses, and participate in local community events with sponsorship opportunities, according to its website.
The WBA can also provide its members with access to resources for small business support by connecting them with the SCORE nonprofit organization and/or the Columbia River Economic Development Commission, according to Greenlee.
Annual WBA memberships cost $120 for companies with 0 to 24 full-time employees, $240 for companies with 25 or more full-time employees, and $80 for nonprofit organizations, and can be purchased at washougalbusin ess.com.