Its funding has been cut, and the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce is laying off some employees, an official said Monday.
It will be a smaller organization, and the Chamber’s support corporation, the Oak Ridge Economic Partnership, will become dormant, its work absorbed by the Chamber, said Parker Hardy, president and chief executive officer of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
Hardy declined to name the employees who will be laid off or say how many workers might be affected, although he said the information could be shared later.
“Some people will be let go,” he said. “I’m not going to start sharing specific names in the media today.”
Hardy declined to say what would happen with members of the Oak Ridge Economic Partnership team, who are Chamber employees.
“We just don’t discuss personnel matters with the media,” he said.
The Partnership team includes Kim Denton, Kathy Barber, and Elisabeth Brown, according to the organization’s website, and Denton and Barber are, perhaps, most well-known for their work with local industries and office tenants as well as the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board.
Hardy said he wanted to give the employees who will be laid off time to notify customers and volunteers.
Hardy said the changes at the Chamber are the result of a change in its contract with the city, which recently reduced funding and prohibited spending on Chamber staff, and a cut in financing from the Innovation Valley, which is now managed by the Knoxville Chamber.
“The way we are doing economic development in Oak Ridge is changing,” Hardy said.
In May, the Oak Ridge City Council approved a new budget that allots $175,000 for Chamber-related expenses, or “hard cost marketing” such as sending people to meet with industrial suppliers or shopping center retailers. Under the new contract, no city resources can be used for Chamber staff expenses.
The Chamber contract had previously been valued at about $260,000 per year, and some resources could be used for economic development staffing.
Hardy said the Innovation Valley funding had been for reimbursable expenses. The organization no longer offers financial support for Oak Ridge or other communities it serves, he said.
“We are going to be leaner,” Hardy said. “There are things that we are not going to be able to do that we have been able to do in the past.”
Even though the Partnership will become dormant, the Chamber will continue to work with retail, commercial, industrial, and office businesses, Hardy said.
“We’re not getting out of the economic development business,” he said.
He said the Partnership could become dormant later this summer, and its future could be resolved by the end of the year.
Hardy said the Chamber will consider how to restructure its staff so that the city doesn’t lose its economic momentum. The changes come even as the economic picture in Oak Ridge seems to be brighter than it has been recently, with a possible redevelopment of the Oak Ridge Mall, a planned Kroger Marketplace shopping center, new businesses on Oak Ridge Turnpike and South Illinois Avenue, and a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex, among other things.
Hardy said the Partnership was created for the three main participants in industrial development: the Chamber, City of Oak Ridge, and Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee. The nonprofit organization’s initial filing date was in January 2002, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website.
But the city now has its own two economic development consultants—Ray Evans and Steve Jones—and its relationship with the Chamber is changing, Hardy said.
Still, the economy is generally better and the retail environment is improving, so the question is how to manage resources with less money but more opportunity, Hardy said.
“I think we can emerge from this thing with a different kind of partnership,” he said.