OTTUMWA — Local business owners now have a place to network and learn from one another.

The Ottumwa Small Business Alliance hosts a monthly forum where local business owners can meet one another, forge relationships and share ideas. Its founder, Connie Hammersley-Wilson, has described a healthy business community as being like a family, and the Alliance as a kind of family reunion.

Its first meeting was held at Hotel Ottumwa.

“We were hoping for a dozen,” said Hammersley-Wilson. “We had 40 show up, so I’m just thrilled to death.”

Joe Damerval, owner of the MAD Avenue Quik Stop, was one of the attendees. He said Hammersley-Wilson frequents his shop and personally invited him to the event.

“All the small businesses getting together, talking about how everybody needs to support each other,” Damerval said when asked what about the group intrigued him, “and how we need to get the community to support small businesses in this town.”

Damerval stressed the need for locals to support local businesses, pointing out that a dollar spent with a large business online is a dollar that will never go to support community programs such as Little League. He was happy with how the meeting went and said he plans to attend them in the future.

Apart from those who attended the initial meeting, Hammersley-Wilson said she’s already been contacted by a number of others, including several with businesses in the Main Street district, who are interested in joining. Since the last meeting was already near capacity, she said the Alliance may need to move locations to accommodate the new arrivals.

The group is flexible to fit the wants and ideas of the various members. While Hammersley-Wilson is the main driving force behind the Alliance, she envisions eventually stepping away from a primary role of leadership to allow the participants to lead the group and decide what form it will take.

Hammersley-Wilson said a few ideas already came out of the initial meeting. One member suggested an application-sharing program, where businesses could draw job applications from a common pool. Job applicants would have to first consent to their application being shared.

Those who attended the first meeting were encouraged to invite at least one other business owner to the next, which will be at 7 a.m. Nov. 21. It’s tentatively set to be held in the Fox and Sac Room at Hotel Ottumwa, but the location may change depending on how many people RSVP. The subject of the meeting will be marketing, but the speaker still needs to be decided upon.

For more information, contact Hammersley-Wilson at 641-799-2293 or by email at Connie@baileyoffice.com.

Jack Langland can be reached at jlangland@ottumwacourier.com.

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