At the annual meeting of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center held Tuesday at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, the 2019 fiscal year looked bright, with the highest revenue — $695,000 — being reporter for the chamber in five years and the first year since 2015 that revenues rose above $600,000.
That good news was tempered by a somber report by Mike Flores of the Ninilchik Charter Association and Homer Charter Association that the halibut allocation for the guided sport and commercial halibut in Area 3A could be cut 40% if the International Pacific Halibut Commission accepts a new model for determining the percentage of female halibut.
Executive Director Brad Anderson, who started late last year, introduced the new Board of Directors President, Tom Soderholm of Smokey Bay Air, and new officers, Vice President Alex Sweeney, Treasurer Brian Vecellio and Secretary Kari Dendurent. New board members David Briggs, Bridget Maryott and Joleen Brooks join current members Brad Conley, Crisi Matthews, Joell Restad, Nelton Palma and Jenny Carroll.
“We had a great year,” said Vecellio during his financial report. “We’re looking to another exciting year at the chamber.”
Vecellio noted that the lowest revenue producer was the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, which prodiced only 9% of total revenues. That’s one of the reasons the chamber chose to end the derby last fall. The derby will be replaced by a two-day Homer Halibut Tournament to be held June 5 and 6. The Homer Winter King Tournament, to be held March 21, generated 35% of chamber revenues last year, followed by memberships at 20%. Raffles, City of Homer contributions and other revenues made up 36% of revenues.
In his report, Vecellio noted another surprise revenue source.
“One of the things that turned out to be a roaring success is the Homer Bucks,” he said of the chamber’s paper money with a photo of town namesake Homer Pennock that can be used like cash at participating local businesses.
Vecellio noted that South Peninsula Hospital gave its employees Homer Bucks as holiday gifts. Last year, $48,000 was circulated in Homer Bucks.
“The nice thing is it keeps that money circulating in our town,” Vecellio said.
Membership Director Nyla Lightcap reported that the chamber has 506 members, with 429 renewing, a 90.5% renewal rate. With the chamber ending its after-business hours monthly meet-and-greet, it’s shifting to the morning hours with Chamber Coffee, to be held monthly at the chamber or participating businesses at 8:30 a.m.
“You can come in before you start your business and have some coffee,” she said.
The chamber also will be holding “Member Minutes” at gatherings, a one-minute slot by members to pitch their businesses or organizations. About 20 members did so at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
Visitor Services Director Jan Knutson announced a new visitor office: the Spit Visitor Center, to be housed in the former jackpot derby office on the Homer Spit.
Many visitors head straight to the Spit as their tourist destination, Soderholm said.
“For them, Homer is the last mile of the Spit,” he said. “That (the Spit Visitor Center) gives us a chance to redirect them, to have another resource to enjoy this town.”
Marketing Director Amy Woodruff spoke about the chamber visitor guides. Last year, 120,000 were distributed locally and statewide.
“It’s a really cool product to get people informed about Homer,” she said.
Anderson also unveiled the 2020 Visitor Guide, with a photo by Edward L. Marsh.
Another outreach program is the relocation package, mailings that include a visitor guide, information provided by the city and other material. About 240 packages went out in 2019.
Woodruff also talked about the New Neighbor program, where people moving to Homer get welcome packets with information about local businesses and services. She quoted a comment from one new Homerite, who said, “I can’t think of anything else I need. As a new resident, this is the best welcome I imagined.”
The chamber also helps visiting journalists connect with sources and get the information and images they need, Woodruff said. Recently they assisted writers and photographs with Sunset Magazine for an upcoming article on sustainability towns that will include Homer.
The bad news about halibut allocations came near the end of the meeting. Flores said that a new data analysis by International Pacific Halibut Commission scientists showed 90% of commercially-caught halibut from one sample area showed 95% of the fish were female. A previous analysis indicated that 85% of the halibut were males, he said.
The new analysis would mean a 40% reduction in halibut allocations for both longliners and charter boats, Flores said.
“It’s too big a cut in one year,” he said.
If the cuts stand, to meet the new catch reduction, one proposal is that guided sport halibut trips be slashed to four days a week, a cut some captains said wouldn’t be financially feasible.
Flores urged owners of tourist businesses and not just halibut fishermen to write comments to the IPHC urging them not to impose the cuts. The analysis was only done using data from one area in 3A and with only one kind of fishery.
“We just feel like a 40% cut is too much when the data is not complete,” Flores said. “The impact to our community is pretty significant with that many days.”