Miriam Battson is a connector. She believes in finding ways to bring people and organizations together to make Gig Harbor stronger and more vibrant. She carries those skills to her new job as president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce.
Battson is a longtime Gig Harbor resident and previously worked as the chamber’s membership development director. Her background includes many years in IT sales and marketing, and business consulting.
New CEO Miriam Battson wants the chamber to be the catalyst to bring the community together, working with organizations like the Waterfront Alliance, Uptown merchants and the Gig Harbor North businesses. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now
“In many of the jobs I had, I actually created the position for myself,” Battson said in a recent interview. “I always try to look for opportunities and solutions. Now I’m looking at how the Chamber can partner with different organizations here and continue to build an amazing community by all working together. It’s a huge opportunity for us to come together and pool our skills and resources.”
Battson recalled that years ago when she went to Chamber functions, often the first question people asked was, “How long have you been in Gig Harbor?”
“And I learned that many others had similar experiences,” she said. “There was an unfortunate perception that the Chamber was just for old white business men. But it’s not that way at all and now we’re always looking for ways to be inclusive and welcome everyone.”
Currently the chamber’s membership comprises about 7% nonprofit organizations and 70% small businesses with 10 or fewer staff. The rest are larger organizations.
“We’re really fortunate to have so many amazing sponsors and supporters,” she said.
Battson and her staff are paying close attention to what’s happening in Olympia.
“In the last legislative session there was lots of business-related activity, including some things that are not especially friendly to our local businesses. So we sent letters of support for legislation that was business-friendly, and other letters that explained how proposed legislation could hurt,” she said.
The Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce is located at 3125 Judson St. Photo courtesy of Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce
She also wants to work closely with the city’s planning department to advocate for businesses that are trying to navigate the permitting system.
“There are often barriers to setting up a new business here, and it seems like there’s conflicting information between what the planning department says and what the building inspectors look for,” she said. “It can be really frustrating.”
The chamber is also watching the issue of short term-rentals that’s currently under review.
“One of the things I love about Gig Harbor is how supportive our community is toward our local businesses,” she said. “One of our biggest challenges has been coping with all the COVID mandates that have been so frustrating for small business owners. So many of them are just hanging on by a thread. They’ve mortgaged their homes and are trying everything they can to stay in business and keep their staffs employed.”
She added that it’s important for people to not react against businesses that have to ask for proof of vaccination or tell customers to wear a mask.
“Just have patience. That young hostess in the restaurant, it’s her job to ask and it’s just not fair or right to get angry at her,” she said.
While many local businesses have struggled to survive over the past 18 months, others have thrived. Three industries have been especially successful, judging from the number of hits on the chamber’s website — mental health organizations, attorneys and construction companies. Businesses whose employees can work from home have also been more successful.
“More and more people have set up home offices,” Battson said.
Several new businesses have opened recently that are “doing really well,” including a day spa and a party supply store and a new restaurant on the waterfront. Another new business, U break I fix, is already thriving.
“They repair computers, phones, all kinds of tech stuff. And they also recycle computers and phones. They even fixed a seal-a-meal,” she said.
Battson listed several priorities in her strategic vision for the chamber. First, being the catalyst to bring the community together, working with organizations like the Waterfront Alliance, Uptown merchants and the Gig Harbor North businesses. Another of her goals is to make the Chamber’s leadership team as diverse as possible with different skills and personalities.
“When we take a look at our own house, that helps us all be more successful,” she said.
Another goal is to increase visibility for Chamber members.
“We just hired a new marketing director and a new sales manager and they’re both real go-getters with great energy and wonderful ideas. I know our local businesses will benefit,” she said.
Education is also on her list of priorities. In the past, the Chamber presented monthly workshops for members on things like soft skills and strategic planning, staffing and other success-building topics.
Battson also wants the Chamber to be the go-to source for information on upcoming events.
“I want to have a master calendar on our website that people go to to find out what’s happening in our community, where organizations can input their own event information, like an art show or meeting,” she said.
She also emphasized that she has an open-door policy and is always willing to listen to new ideas.
And finally, she said, she is excited to bring back the Maritime Gig next year.
“After having to cancel it for two years, we’ll be bringing back a lot of favorite things,” she said. “We’re really counting on it happening in 2022. It will be the first weekend in June, so mark your calendars.”
We can’t do it without you. Public service news requires community support.
Sign up now for the Gig Harbor Now weekly newsflash to stay abreast of everything that’s happened in the past seven days.