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KIRTLAND — San Juan County's newest municipality after incorporating in January and electing its first mayor and Board of Trustees in May — now has its own chamber of commerce.

On July 18, the newly formed chamber held its first official function at the "grand re-opening" celebration for Kirtland Realty, which has been in business in the Lower Valley since the 1980s. The realty office — anticipating an increase in business — also was celebrating the addition of an agent and an administrator this spring.

Kara Wood, who has owned Kirtland Realty since 1998 and is a chamber member, said the formation of the business group began last year when women who are business leaders in the community decided to do more to promote their town, a 337-acre area located mostly between U.S. Highway 64 and the San Juan River, west of Farmington.

They called themselves the Kirtland/Lower Valley Business and Professional Women's Group, and the women — Dianne Bonebrake, Jacque Foutz, Michelle Hill-Jack, Lisa Newberry, Sherry Foutz, Betty Duncan and Chris Amberman — were "instrumental in getting the group and then the chamber going," Wood said.

"We started out as a core group of women, and we finally decided it was time to finally make it happen," Wood said. "It kind of morphed from the women's group. Now we invite everybody. We were meeting and supporting each other and decided that we needed something that would have more of a community influence."

Initial goals for the chamber include enhancing its website — kirtlandchamber.com — and designing a logo for the organization, possibly by holding a logo contest.

Wood said Kirtland has a lot of potential. Possible projects include looking at establishing a boat launch on the San Juan River in Lions Park and trying to attract a grocery store, she said. Kirtland residents have to travel to Shiprock to the west or nearby Farmington to the east to go grocery shopping.

"We have three large junk or salvage yards, that sometimes can be controversial because they can look junky, but I really think that can be a great opportunity for us to advertise ourselves as the recycling capital of the Four Corners," Wood said. "I think there should be some way to turn that into a draw — things like that to help market the resources that we have."

Besides its salvage industry, Wood said Kirtland has lots of agricultural businesses — mostly ranches, farms and a nursery — as well as a bumper crop of musical artists and a broad swath of retail, mostly along the highway.

Wood said one member raised the idea of starting a farmers' market in Kirtland.

"We have fun," Wood said. "We're kind of like Mayberry out here. And maybe that's something that people like about Kirtland, kind of small-town and community-minded in a lot of ways."

The chamber was officially incorporated last month. Wood said the chamber is waiting to receive its nonprofit status from the state.

Saturday's event included a silent auction, which raised $278, that, along with private donations and annual member dues the chamber has received, form the bulk of its small budget. Kirtland businesses can join by paying annual dues of $100 and private individuals pay $75.

Since it formed, 23 businesses have signed informational forms expressing interest in joining the chamber. So far, 10 businesses have paid dues and are active members, Wood said.

"We're all volunteers, so we're slowly growing," Wood said. The chamber will hold elections for board positions in January.

Lynn and Brian Mack live in Fruitland, so they were not able to vote for incorporation, but the couple own and operate the Kirtland Dairy Queen on Highway 64.

Lynn Mack helped open the store in 1986 and worked there as manager until the couple bought the franchise restaurant in 1989. They run their independently owned Dairy Queen with son Donovan Mack and daughter Kim Hunt and employ about 30 to 35 employees, she said. The franchise is ranked by Dairy Queen as the second best performing location in the entire Southwest, she said.

The Macks joined the chamber as business members recently, prompted, Lynn Mack said, by Kirtland becoming San Juan County's fourth municipality.

"I saw that they have had meetings (this spring) and had been invited to them, but I'm not a morning person," she said. "I thought, so now that we are a town we should join (the chamber). I do keep up with them on Facebook and will help as I can."

The chamber group holds monthly meetings at 7:30 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the Lower Valley Water Users Cooperative Association, 4286 US Hwy 64.

Lynn Mack said that the chamber of commerce is a practical way to help businesses collaborate with each other for the benefit of the community, which will help the new town and its residents.

"The chamber will help us to promote our businesses and to work together as a group to let our community members know that we're here and to hopefully help the town grow," she said. "I think all businesses should belong (to the chamber) to that so that we can get together, promote businesses and activities in our town. The (Lower) Valley is very community-oriented."

Like Farmington's chamber, which helps launch new businesses with ribbon-cutting events its "red coats" business ambassadors hold, the Kirtland chamber members sport purple vests — purple and gold are the colors of Kirtland Central High School — made by a chamber member.

Ironically, Wood's business also is not located within the town's limits, she said, but she predicts Kirtland will take Bloomfield's lead and annex more land in the future. Last year, Bloomfield annexed 6,775 acres of federal, state and privately held land northeast and northwest of its city limits, more than doubling its size.

"Maybe we can be kind of like the city of Bloomfield. I'm proud of Bloomfield. They've done a good job, going through growing pains," Wood said. "I have confidence Kirtland can do that, too."

MORE INFORMATION

What: Kirtland Chamber of Commerce
Where: 453 Road 6100 in “the old movie barn” in Kirtland
More info: Call 505-598-5818, email KirtlandChamber@gmail.com or go to kirtlandchamber.com or facebook.com/KirtlandChamber.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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