“Engage, Connect, Grow” is Mark Losh’s mantra and his driving framework. Mark became the Executive Director of the West Plains Chambers of Commerce on August 23rd of this year. He hit the ground running and attended 55 meetings in his first three weeks. He managed to carve some time out of his busy schedule to connect with me about his new role and his goals for the West Plains Chamber. Hold on to your hats, West Plains folks, and get ready for some exciting times! In fact, Mark doesn’t sleep well because he is so excited about his work with the West Plains business community, the growth of the area, and the changes coming to the chamber.
Originally from Deer Park, Washington, Mark comes to the West Plains Chamber of Commerce after serving with the larger Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce for five years. He brings with him his ties to the area and a wealth of business experience. In his youth, Mark spent summers in Reardon on his Uncle Norm Anderson’s farm. He went on to found four businesses and was involved with three start-ups. He served as a contractor for the Department of Defense in Seattle, where he also worked in job site security to stop copper theft with the Paul Allen group.
Mark joins Deanna Williams to complete the team of two heading up the chamber serving approximately 280 members. Mark describes Deanna as a “rock star” and “his greatest asset” who is very well connected to the community and has helped initiate Mark into his new role. Deanna’s official title is Administrative Assistant and Events Coordinator, but according to Mark, “Titles don’t really matter here. We both do everything.”
Mark also speaks appreciatively of the chamber’s “amazing board of directors.” He credits this “incredible board” of 17 with stepping in to keep the chamber moving and keeping it alive when it was threatened by COVID. For an event-driven chamber, COVID hit hard. Mark compares this experience to bringing a car out of the garage after a long time sitting dormant. “You pull it out, dust it off. You change the oil and charge the battery.”
He adds that “it’s a unique time” for businesses. He says that everyone is reevaluating how they do things. That’s exactly what Mark is doing in his new role. One end goal is to become an initiative-driven chamber that engages members, connects members, and leads to growth. “You can’t grow until you connect. You can’t connect until you engage.” Everything the chamber does must help to engage, connect, and grow. “If it doesn’t help engage, connect, and grow, it needs to be reevaluated.”
Mark’s first step is identifying the needs of the members. “You gotta know what members want.” One need that has become evident to Mark is a changer of commerce website that functions as an interactive tool for members. He envisions a website that engages and leads to connection and growth. This website would provide a networking forum and training for members. His plan includes a library of video or PowerPoint trainings created by small business owners for small businesses. For example, if a new small business owner has a question about hiring new employees, or holding a Zoom meeting, they could view a training on the website that would teach them what to do. The business owner would only need to ask in the website, “How do I_______?” to find what they need. “It’s limitless what can happen when members connect with members,” explains Mark.
In Mark’s quest for the chamber to become the best business partners for the West Plains, he strives for the chamber to be relevant to members and for members to find value in the chamber. Plans include Lunch and Learn events for education and industry roundtables. These roundtables would provide a forum to connect members who are all in the same industry, such as manufacturing, hospitality, health care, media, and education. Mark adds these roundtables would not be a forum for sales pitches, but a place to engage, connect, and grow with fellow members of the same industry. Another plan is to utilize volunteer ambassadors who liaise with the community, help engage new members, and help make events successful.
To be relevant and of value also means that if business owners have questions, they look to the chamber first. When someone needs help, Mark wants them to hear, “Have you talked to the chamber yet?” In turn, Mark is asking business owners, “What can I do for you right now? What kept you up last night?” Even if they just need to someone to talk to, the chamber can be there first point of contact. “I can’t solve every problem, but I can connect them to someone who can.”
Mark stresses that success results from collaboration from the board, volunteers, and the community. “This is not my chamber, it’s the members’ chamber. I just facilitate.”
It’s no accident that Mark is facilitating in one of the fastest growing areas of Washington State. With over $750 million generated over the past two years, in West Plains, Mark found the challenge he was looking for. “We have the Air Force Base, we have the airport, we have the wonderful university, we have the tribal casinos, and all the new businesses. It’s gonna blow up out here!”
Mark admits the changes to the West Plains Chamber of Commerce will “take time to get things moving, Small things will happen first. But we’ll know when we get there. When we’re connecting. When we’re collaborating. When they (members) come to us first. Then we’ll know we’re relevant and initiative driven.”
Mark says he loves building, and the biggest attraction of his new position is that he gets to be on the ground floor. “I’m still learning. Learning is lifelong. I’m lucky to have mentors with decades of business experience. I’m being coached now as we all should be,” says Mark.
“I’m blessed to be here. I love what I do!”