Investing in your community can take many forms. Charitable work, volunteering, shopping locally, and supporting small businesses are easy ways anyone can show dedication and civic pride. David Schaffert, president and CEO of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, has spent 20 years invested with, for, and on behalf of, that vital institution.
The Thurston County Chamber was created in 1874 and was the first one in Washington State, according to Schaffert. His family roots run equally deep, though he only moved to the region in 1990. “I have extensive family in the community,” he says. “My great, great grandfather homesteaded near Yelm.”
After stints with the Legislature and Olympia Master Builders, Schaffert joined Chamber staff. “In 1998, the Chamber was on solid footing and poised to look for the next opportunity,” he says. In the intervening 20 years, they’ve done tremendous work county-wide.
“There’s a unique dynamic being at the head of an organization for two decades, seeing how things change and move,” admits Schaffert. Though they’ve always had an emphasis on community development, business development, and infrastructure, three years ago the board worked to codify an overall mission. “It’s painful when you do it,” he laughs, “but helpful in focusing.”
Jon Jones, president and CEO of Washington Business Bank, was one of several individuals instrumental in hiring Schaffert. “I was on the Board when David was hired and was the Chair for his first full Chamber year, 1999—2000,” Jones says. “Over the years I’ve watched David go from being an ‘Executive Director’ to ‘President/CEO’ of the one of the largest Chambers in the state. But more than that, David has shown true leadership. Not just in his own organization, but in the community as a whole. He’s definitely an asset to the community.”
Attorney Allen Miller was also part of the process. Former Chair of the Chamber Board, he affectionately calls Schaffert, “the best hire of my career.” Miller enjoys seeing both Schaffert, who he laughingly remembers as “an up and coming guy” and the Chamber grow. “It’s hard to believe we’re both around twenty years later to talk about it,” he says.
And that up-and-comer is still going strong. “Nothing is static,” continues Schaffert, “and many things have been re-invented, redeveloped, and re-implemented.” Within the last 10 years, 3 ongoing projects have come to the forefront.
The first of these deals with our public workforce system, especially helping community members and employers attract and obtain sufficient and quality employees. This includes Business 2 Business, “the business community’s liaison to the labor market and wage rate information, employee training and accommodation resources, alternate candidate pools, and unique ways to retain staff during difficult economic times.”
Business2Youth Connect helps “connect students with work integrated learning opportunities in the community that fit within their career interests” through an online database and career exploration software. Camo2Commerce guides service members transitioning back into civilian life and employment.
As if tackling employment wasn’t enough, the Chamber also facilitates Thurston Thrives. This citizen council-lead group tackles nine different issues to better the community. These include climate and clean energy, clinical care, community design, the economy, education and resilience, the environment, food, housing, and public safety and justice.
“That’s really bold for a Chamber of Commerce to take on,” admits Schaffert, but their role as the backbone organization is crucial.
The third project addresses and supports critical efforts in public policy through a shared Legislative partnership that works with local legislators on both sides of the aisle. Their Public Policy Team advocates strive to “impact regulatory, land-use and permitting issues, provide direct advocacy for business and industry, continue to partner with local government, assisting in obtaining state and federal resources for regional projects [and] support critical partners such as higher education and K-12 education.”
But the Chamber serves more than just a support role. They work for, and with, local businesses and community members. Their events calendar is full of networking groups, informative meetings, and open forums on a number of topics. “It’s really vibrant, really cool to see how many members want to come together every month,” says Schaffert.
Meetings once seen as perfunctory now draw in more than 200 attendees at a time. Within the last 5 years they’ve even started the Thurston Young Professionals group to teach networking and areas of career impact to job-seekers under 30-years-old.
Chambers of Commerce began more than 400 years ago as a way of providing “merchants, traders, craftsmen and industrialists a public forum to discuss issues facing them as a business community…However, as diverse as chambers have become, representing a wide cross-section of interests and methods, their common goal remains to support business enterprises.”
Under the skilled leadership of dedicated public servants like David Schaffert and his entire Thurston County Chamber staff, they’re sure to stay vibrant and vital for years to come.
To ask questions, join, or find ways you can help, call 360-357-3362 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.