$$$ The Dash for Chamber Cash $$$
By Tom Larson
If you've been in Morris a long time, you've probably heard about Chamber Cash. And more people this year have gone from just hearing about it to using it.
The Morris Chamber of Commerce is witnessing an explosion in the number of people using Chamber Cash for gifts or bonuses for employees.
Last year, the chamber printed about $10,000 in Chamber Cash. On Friday, the chamber's 2008 total stood at almost $44,000.
On Friday, the chamber printed $2,700 in Chamber Cash, and on Dec. 12, two Morris businesses bought $7,000 of Chamber Cash checks.
Almost $40,000 in Chamber Cash has been purchased in the last month alone.
"Morris is just incredible," said Karen Arnold, Chamber of Commerce Interim Director, whose goal is $45,000 by the end of the year. "Give people here the opportunity to think that this is worthwhile, they'll jump right on the bandwagon."
Arnold and administrative assistant Kat Albert aren't exactly sure what prompted the uptick in Chamber Cash use, but Arnold said there's been a great response from chamber members seeing a newsletter note about it, and she also sent letters to non-chamber businesses informing them of the program.
The Chamber Cash system also has been modified to make it much easier to use.
There is no cost to use Chamber Cash, which is available to chamber members and can be used in the same way as personal checks.
As opposed to gift cards from major retailers, Chamber Cash can only be redeemed at the business of a chamber member, keeping the money and business local.
"It's all in Morris," Albert said. "All the money is spent in Morris, which is awesome."
The Chamber Cash program has changed since its inception. No longer are the "checks" slips of copied paper that have to be redeemed by businesses at the chamber office. They now are accepted like any other check and can be sent through regular deposits, Arnold said.
The checks can be made out in any denomination, as well.
Chamber businesses are getting used to handling the Chamber Cash, and others in the community are finding it a handy gift for friends and family, or as a bonus to give employees. Individuals are catching on to Chamber Cash's advantages.
"An elderly man came in and said he asked his daughter what she wanted for Christmas," Albert said. "She suggested Chamber Cash. That was kind of neat. He got her $45 in Chamber Cash."
The chamber has an information sheet on Chamber Cash and a pocket-sized list of the 90 local retail businesses that accept the checks, and they are as good as cash at 150 chamber-member businesses.
Arnold and Albert also hope it serves as an incentive to other businesses involved in the chamber.
"They might say, 'That's a lot of money going into the community and my business isn't part of that,'" Albert said. "It's a way that they can see that it's a good thing for the community."