These are very challenging days for most Chambers of Commerce around the United States. The coronavirus has forced many businesses to close or to scale back operations. Chambers are seeing memberships drop off and most are concentrating on staying afloat. For chambers to find new members at a time like this seems completely impossible.
Not so in Condon and that is due to the diligence and hard work of Condon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director K’Lynn Lane.
Lane, 36, is a Condon native and is the daughter of Dewey Kennedy and Rena Jo Kennedy. K’Lynn’s dedication to the public comes from her father, who is the Gilliam County Road Master and her artistic side comes from her mother, who is also a talented photographer.
After graduating from Condon High School in 2002, K’Lynn attended the University of Idaho, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Public Relations. K’Lynn then started the Southwest Idaho Travel Association Board, a business that promoted international tourism in Idaho.
From there, Mrs. Lane moved to Sedona, Arizona where she worked in the tourism industry and incorporated her love of photography into her work.
K’Lynn returned home in 2012 to take the reins at the Condon Chamber of Commerce and shortly after married her husband, Josh Lane who had come to the area to install wind turbines. The couple has two children, Kennedy and Johnny Reno. Moving home has been incredibly rewarding for K’Lynn and she is working to recruit more Condon alumni to move home.
Sitting to talk about her experience over coffee at Country Flowers, K’Lynn reflects on the early days at the Condon Chamber.
K’Lynn says that in 2012, the Condon Chamber had only 57 members. Today, the Chamber has 237 members and K’Lynn was excited to share the news that two new businesses have joined the Condon Chamber this week. Vestas, a wind energy company headquartered in Denmark that is starting operations in the area become a member and the owner of the new 4-plex that is being built at the old flour mill in Condon also became a chamber member. These two members encapsulate Mrs. Lane’s approach to finding members as she will look near and far for any business that can benefit from the Condon Chamber’s services.
K’Lynn has not been confined by the boundaries of Condon in her approach to growing the Condon Chamber. K’Lynn sees the Condon Chamber as a regional source for all businesses and community members.
While memberships are at the heart of any chamber’s sustainability and relevance, it is not the only source of revenue for the Condon Chamber.
This year, the Condon Chamber has diversified their revenue portfolio and worked to become the contractor for the Gilliam County Court, which made funding available for businesses that required emergency funds in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Working with representatives from the Gilliam County Court, Columbia Basin Electric Coop and others, a committee was formed to take emergency grant applications from Gilliam County businesses that were losing revenue as the state closed non-essential businesses in April and May. The Chamber dispersed more than $50,000 in funds to businesses in need and is currently helping to distribute funds through Gilliam County’s Reopening and Revitalization Grant, which helps businesses make necessary upgrades to protect employees and customers.
K’Lynn’s efforts caught the attention of Regional Solutions, which is coordinating local efforts with Governor Brown’s office for the Mid-Columbia region. Nate Stice, who works for Regional Solutions and the Office of Governor Brown said that K’Lynn has risen to the challenge and is playing a vital role.
Mr. Stice told the Times-Journal that “Governor Brown called for an all hands-on deck approach to fight the coronavirus and related economic impacts. To help advise her statewide Coronavirus Economic Advisory Council and encourage regional collaboration, the Governor asked her Regional Solutions staff to stand up economic recovery teams throughout the state. K’Lynn serves as a key member of the Mid-Columbia Economic Resilience Team, which is co-convened by the Governor Brown’s Regional Solutions program and the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and comprises about 50 employee and business facing professionals. K’Lynn has proven indispensable in region-wide efforts to distribute information, solicit feedback from businesses, and ensure business owners and their employees are trained on how to safely operate in line with guidance. In particular, she has helped the team connect to businesses in Gilliam, Sherman, and Wheeler Counties.”
In addition to Regional Solutions, K’Lynn has continued to work with entities that push for enhanced and well strategized tourism opportunities in the area.
Recently, K’Lynn joined the Executive Committee on the Board of Directors with the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association (EOVA), which promotes international tourism and local tourism opportunities in Eastern Oregon. K’Lynn is waiting to see if she will be appointed to President, Vice President or Secretary.
Also, this year K’Lynn became the Manager for the John Day River Territory (JDRT), a group that is seeking to promote tourism in the area. Although the position is unpaid, K’Lynn sees this as an organization that can help to grow tourism in the area in a way that respects local landowners, public land, businesses, and communities along the John Day River.
JDRT Social Media Manager Joni Kabana, also a Condon Chamber Board member, said that although K’Lynn only recently started as the JDRT Director, she has already made a difference.
“It’s remarkable that K’Lynn, with all the other things she’s involved in plus caring for her family, has stepped into the role of directing the John Day River Territory Team,” Joni Kabana said. “Her ability to develop authentic relationships and to build rapport and trust will serve her well in this role and it will be great to see how various towns along the river’s path can increase support for each other.”
Joining statewide efforts to provide sustainability for businesses and groups that promote tourism might appear to be an untraditional approach for most Chambers of Commerce, but it has made the Condon Chamber into a regional powerhouse.
K’Lynn says that the work she is doing is grounded in her commitment to the area. “Everything that I am doing now has been built by the experiences that I’ve had. Purpose, choosing to make a difference,” she said.
Earlier this spring, K’Lynn’s efforts caught the attention of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden who gave a shout out to the Condon Chamber on Twitter and mentioned K’Lynn by name.
While K’Lynn is a rising star in the region and state, she insists that she has no political ambitions and that the work she is doing is for the community and members of the Chamber.
“I like being in a neutral place that comes from honesty,” K’Lynn says when asked about potentially running for public office someday. “It was humbling that Sen. Wyden recognized me and the Chamber but other than being a basketball official, I don’t want to split the court,” she said with a coy smile.
Indeed, this is how many local people know K’Lynn best. Every winter, she wears the pin-stripe uniform and officiates basketball games in the area. K’Lynn became a referee after shortages threatened to derail basketball seasons in Oregon. It was just another example of K’Lynn answering the call.
In addition to all of these activities, K’Lynn is also a talented photographer and uses her skills to promote the Chamber and the communities in the region. K’Lynn is the owner of Memory Lane Photography and is a fixture at all local events and special occasions for families. Many have no doubt seen her wedding photos, graduation photos and other work. K’Lynn says that this has helped to ground her, and that photography has helped her learn how to connect with people more intimately and to build relationships.
“I could do photography full-time, but I’m so fulfilled in my role that I know that this is where I’m supposed to be,” K’Lynn says. “I’m a square peg in a square hole. I feel that God is telling me that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”