BEST survey gives voice to businesses

The idea that big box chain stores are putting the little guys out of business might be unfounded. At least that's what some members of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce think.

The chamber's Business Enhancement Support Team (BEST) Survey, which began in 2004, was released earlier this month. The survey was prepared by Hattie Dixon of Peninsula Ad Works, who serves on the chamber's board of directors as past president, treasurer and secretary. Dixon reported the survey's results at a chamber luncheon in January and the complete report recently was made available.

Dixon calls the BEST report a "trend" type of survey. Chamber members were surveyed in 2004, then again in 2005. The chamber and the Sequim City Council then agreed the survey should be taken in two-year intervals so one was not conducted in 2006 but was in 2007.

Only 75 chamber members responded to the survey, a decline from 2004 and 2005. Dixon said she was disappointed by the lack of response. According to Sequim councilman and interim chamber president Walt Schubert, the decline could be a case of chamber members simply not having the time to fill out the survey. Schubert said that before moving to Sequim and entering the public life, he, too, ignored such things.

"Those kinds of things would just get ignored because it was just one more thing to do," Schubert said.

The survey was multi-faceted. It was meant to find trends and changes within the Sequim-Dungeness business community as well as to measure businesses' needs and concerns and the strengths and weaknesses of the surrounding community.

According to Schubert, the report is to serve as an informational tool, not so much for the current chamber membership but for perspective business owners and the city council. According to Schubert, each council member will receive a copy of the report.

Schubert was a member of the 2004 Business Enhancement Support Team and said that the representation of Sequim businesses in city government is of the most importance to him.

"This is the start. There was really no voice for the businesses before," Schubert said regarding the survey. Schubert said he believes business owners are essential to Sequim since they are responsible for the majority of its revenues.

According to Dixon and Schubert, the most surprising of the survey's results is that in 2007, 31 percent of the 75 who responded reported that the growing number of "big box" stores, hotels and restaurants had impacted their business positively compared to 13 percent who felt the stores had hurt their business.

"It knocks down the feeling that the big boxes hurt businesses," Schubert said.

Dixon noted, however, that while many businesses wanted to see even more big boxes come to the area, they still wanted Sequim to remain the same.

"I am continually surprised - not really surprised, maybe it's more ironic. Businesses lean toward less development, less change - but at the same time request new businesses needed such as Targets and Macys - both require larger population bases," Dixon wrote in a recent e-mail.

The survey indicates that some of the big box stores make it easier for businesses to operate. Sixty-seven percent of the businesses that responded said they purchased all their supplies within Clallam County, an increase from 55 percent in 2004.

While 44 percent of the businesses surveyed said the growth of their business had been their greatest achievement in 2007 - from moving into a larger building to gaining clients - there was a reported decrease in employees and a decline in the quality of employees.

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