GALION — When Miranda Jones assumed the role of executive director of the Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce early last year, she had no idea that nearly an entire year’s worth of plans would be set aside by a worldwide pandemic.
Jones was hired to replace longtime chamber President/CEO Joe Kleinknecht, who retired from that post after 18 years.
“Joe is a great mentor and will continue on as a chamber ambassador,” Jones said. “We were disappointed that his retirement party was canceled, but we plan to celebrate his tenure will all our members as soon as we can gather together as a large group again.”
Jones joined the chamber full-time in 2017, serving as member engagement director and administrative assistant. Previously, she had served as a Chamber Ambassador and was a board member. She became executive director following Kleinknecht’s retirement in May 2020.
Jones said managing a full chamber event schedule during the pandemic required her and others involved with the organization “to think outside the box.”
“We always put out a schedule of events in January and as you look ahead, most things happen repetitively,” she said. “Every May you have this event, every October you have this, but last year just kind of threw us for a loop where we didn’t know what to expect after March.”
Events like the annual meeting, Third Fridays, and the manufacturers breakfast had to be canceled, Jones said, but after making numerous adjustments, the chamber was able to conduct several events in 2020. “Shop Hops” were held in June, July, August, and September in Galion and Crestline; the annual McDonald’s/Chamber Golf Outing was conducted at Valley View Golf Course in August; the “Crawford-opoly” promotion was conducted in November; and the annual holiday open house and auction was held virtually in December.
“Trying to keep things on track during the pandemic enabled me to think outside the box,” she said. “It helped that I understood the virtual platforms we were dealing with because we had to do everything online. Just having that knowledge and experience and always having Joe on speed dial was really valuable.”
Jones said she considers the recent distribution of CARES Act funding from the Crawford County Commissioners to be the major accomplishment of the year. The Galion-Crestline Area and Bucyrus Area chambers of commerce awarded a total of $800,000 to 177 local businesses in Crawford County.
Jones noted that the addition of Candy Yocum as administrative assistant was key to the chamber’s success last year.
“Candy knows a lot about the community and Crawford County and was used to handling events,” Jones said. “It worked out really well when we brought Candy on, especially during COVID-19.”
Looking forward, Jones pointed to the development of the proposed Freese Center athletic complex and an Opportunity Zone at the Ohio 61/U.S. 30 interchange as the next major projects for the Galion-Crestline area.
“(The Freese Center) is a main focus for me this year, because bringing that to completion for Galion is crucial for our economy moving forward,” Jones said. “It’s going to have that trickle effect where in five years, you’re going to see our Uptowne become a destination. You’re going to see Crestline grow because the next exit over is an Opportunity Zone and it’s just waiting for us to tackle the project that will bring industry to that area.
“There’s always the five-year plan for the chamber, but I think making those two are taken care of so that they can bring development, bring jobs, bring extra tourism to our area is really important.”
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