PUBLISHED: 6:13 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
'Chamber of the Year' goes to Juneau
Isolated. Unstable. Desperate.

These are a few of the words used to describe Juneau following April's avalanches that severed the capital city from its cheap hydropower for nearly two months.

When energy rates quintupled to pay for costly diesel fuel, business owners braced themselves for the worst. But not everyone saw the situation as doom and gloom. Cathie Roemmich saw an opportunity to prove to critics that Juneau could stand on its own.

Photo courtesy of Frank P. Flavin, Flavin Photography
  Juneau Chamber President Ted Quinn, Chamber CEO Cathie Roemmich and executive assistant Tricia Dindinger accept the Chamber of the Year award on Sept. 17 in Fairbanks.
"The avalanche brought us all closer together," said Roemmich, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. "(The chamber) wanted to see Juneau take care of this problem ourselves. We didn't want our city to go to the state for help or ask for federal funds. We saw this as a perfect opportunity for Juneau to show the rest of the state we could take care of ourselves."

During those dim days, Roemmich and the Juneau Chamber, which boasts nearly 400 members, were at the forefront of an energy conservation campaign known as Juneau Unplugged that saw businesses collectively slash energy usage by 30 percent.

The Juneau Chamber's good deeds were acknowledged by the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 17 when it was named 2008 Chamber of the Year during the annual Fall Conference and Trade Show held in Fairbanks. This marks the first time the Juneau Chamber has received the award.

Alaska Electric Light & Power General Manager Tim McLeod said the Juneau Chamber helped quell misinformation about the energy crisis and provided a forum to educate business owners about conservation efforts and financial assistance made available by the city.

The Juneau Chamber "certainly made every effort to help the small businesses in town," he said. "There was an awful lot of bad information going out to people ... that I think was harmful to our community rather than being constructive, and the chamber saw the need to get the right information to people."

McLeod, who wrote letter to the State Chamber commending Roemmich and the Juneau Chamber prior to the September conference, said the award was "well deserved."

"I've been very impressed with Cathie and the chamber board and I'm very happy they received the award," he said. "They had their heart in our community and were sincerely doing everything they could to make Juneau a better place."

Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) in a letter to Roemmich referred to the Juneau Chamber's actions as "innovative problem solving."

"(The award) ... shows that the members of the Juneau Chamber are committed to protecting and bettering the community," Young writes. "I am proud of your good work in Juneau, and I thank your entire membership for its positive impact on the city."

Some of the Juneau Chamber's other accomplishments in 2008 include working with the Mayor's Task Force on Affordable Housing and the City and Borough of Juneau Comprehensive Plan.

The Juneau Chamber also was a force in reducing Juneau's Business Personal Property Tax. About 90 percent of Juneau's 2,800 businesses now pay a lower tax. Roemmich said she hopes the tax will be abolished in 2009.

"I hope the whole community is proud of what we're accomplishing in the business community," Roemmich said. "This is all of us shining as a community."