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Cortez Chamber of Commerce hires new executive director

The Cortez Chamber of Commerce has reorganized for a fresh start. From left are: Business Resource Coordinator Tanya Gasner; board members Bridgett Jabour, Lindsay Fresquez and Houston Frizzell; Executive Director Aretta Begay; and board members Katrina Weiss and Brian Bartlett. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Staff and new board have plans to revitalize business organization

The Cortez Chamber of Commerce has hired Aretta Begay to serve as its new executive director.

Begay is from Tee-Nos-Pos, Arizona, and is a member of the Dine (Navajo) Tribe and is relocating to Cortez.

She has a background working in the restaurant industry, nonprofits, cultural arts, tribal government, sheep raising, the wool textile trade, community food programs and conservation.

Begay is the former director of Navajo Lifeways and served as co-coordinator for the Navajo-Churro Lamb Presidium. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy from Fort Lewis College.

Begay and a new chamber board were introduced during a community meet-and-greet Thursday at the new chamber office in downtown Cortez.

A fresh start for the agency was one of the themes.

“We have new board members and are revitalizing the organization,” Begay said. “I am happy to be here with this team, and have been getting to know the people and businesses.”

Goals are more community events, increased chamber membership, business workshops and networking, recruitment of younger members and marketing the new business services at the spacious new office.

The economic downturn because of the coronavirus pandemic hurt many chambers of commerce including in Cortez. Businesses shut down or downsized, and memberships were dropped because of financial hardship.

The Cortez chamber has 125 members, down from 300 pre-pandemic, Begay said. An immediate priority is a campaign to increase membership up to 200 businesses and organizations.

Aretta Begay is the new executive director of the Cortez Chamber of Commerce. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Business owners offered ideas and comments during a recent open house of the Cortez Chamber of Commerce. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

“We’re rebounding and have more to offer and are looking toward more community involvement,” she said.

A window-advertising program allows members to place their logos and promotions on the front of the high-profile chamber offices on downtown Main Street.

Affordable conference rooms and workspaces are available at the Business Resource Center, which has high-speed internet.

Business planning services are available, including from the Small Business Development Center and Region 9 Southwest Colorado Economic Development. Both have offices in at the new chamber center.

The BRC caters to new businesses starting up and entrepreneurs who can’t afford to rent a larger office space.

In an interview, Begay said a strong labor force is a key component for business success. Resume building and job training programs are a priority to get people back in the workforce.

“Finding workers is an issue for businesses,” she said. “Basic job skill training are the roots of a labor force.”

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Local insurance agent and chamber board member Katrina Weiss said hiring and keeping employees in her industry has been a real challenge.

“I was inspired to join the board to work on improving the readiness of people entering the workforce,” she said.

Training the next generation is critical for businesses, Weiss said, as older workers retire from the workforce.

The chamber is looking to start a scholarship program to help community members get the training they need so they hopefully can be hired locally, Begay said.

The chamber board heard ideas and comments from the audience. People agreed that more Cortez events were needed, including bringing back Cortez Crazy Days, which used to be held downtown.

“Dolores and Mancos have their big annual events, but Cortez is not as known for anything,” said one man. “Bring in something that involves businesses and community and is something we can call our own.”

Marketing events so they are easy to find out about and simple for vendors to join is also important, said an artist and small business owner.

Other ideas were chamber mixers that bring business leaders together, sponsored benefits, lunch and learns where experts on business topics give presentations.

“We are getting back to that level, we had a hiatus and lack of presence, but we are trying to build back up, and we want to do it right so it is sustainable,” said board member Brian Bartlett.

The chamber board is made up of Houston Frizzell, Dolores Sheets, Brian Bartlett, Lindsay Fresquez, Bridget Jabour, and Katrina Weiss.

For more information, go to cortezchamber.com.