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LAUNCHing careers in South Central Kentucky

Ben Goldstein on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 9:15:00 am 

SCK LAUNCH is an initiative of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce that encourages students to explore local career opportunities, while learning valuable soft-skills at the same time.

“We have about 6,000 open positions in South Central Kentucky right now,” explained Kim Phelps, vice president of communications and public policy at the Bowling Green Chamber. “This is a wonderful place to live and work, but as the community grows, we want our kids to stay, and we want our alumni to come back to work here also.”

The initiative was conceived as an extension of two successful programs in the community: The Leader in Me, which teaches elementary school students about leadership and soft skills; and LEAD, which further develops those skills for middle school students. SCK LAUNCH, in contrast, builds on those programs by exposing teens to local industries to get them thinking about potential careers.

“Our students are learning leadership skills from the time they’re in kindergarten all the way through graduation,” said Phelps. “When they get to high school, it becomes more about laying the hard skills on top of the soft skills, and when students graduate, they will have an industry credential of some kind,” she added.

SCK LAUNCH offers career shadowing to high school students to raise awareness about the variety of careers available in the region. Through the program, teens get the opportunity to tour plants and facilities, meet with employees and observe how they work in their natural environments..

Through “educator externships,” teachers visit companies to learn about the types of jobs offered and the education and skills required. Afterward, they can adjust their curricula and lesson plans to more effectively steer students into local career opportunities.

“A lot of teachers go from high school to college and then straight back to the classroom, so they actually don’t have a clear picture of what they are preparing their students for,” explained Phelps. “These experiences give them context, so they can help students understand why the work they’re doing is valuable.”

Phelps cites the newly-cemented relationship between business and education as the greatest achievement of SCK LAUNCH, and says she hopes collaboration will continue—even after the chamber eventually dials back its own involvement in the initiative.

“One of the things that has been so unique and rewarding for us is having the business and education communities sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye and actually talk to one another,” she said. “At the end of the day, the integration of the career mindset in our schools is really the goal.”

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Tags: Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, Internships, SCK Launch, Soft Skills, STEM, Workforce Development

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Afterschool STEM for tomorrow's workforce

Ben Goldstein on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 9:00:00 am 

Chambers of commerce are partnering with the Mott Foundation’s 50 State Afterschool Network to advance high-quality programming for elementary school-aged students across the U.S.

Here are examples of two chambers — one in South Carolina, and one in Washington state — that are teaming up with their statewide networks to help kids get a jump-start on science, math and technology.

South Carolina 

In 2010, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce joined forced with the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance to promote STEM learning for students in the state’s public school system.

Initially, the focus was ensuring members' employees could remain productive between 2–5:00 p.m. on weekdays, said Cynthia Bennett, vice president of education at the South Carolina Chamber. Later, as the project evolved, its mission shifted to guaranteeing that networks were providing high-quality, STEM-focused learning opportunities for the entire community.

“We chose to work with the network because there was a common ground for mutual benefits and shared priorities,” said Bennet.  “We are the voice of business in South Carolina and our main goal and concern was—and still is—making sure we have an educated workforce that will be able to take over, as opposed to having to be retrained.”

Through their collaboration, the chamber helped the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance increase its visibility and credibility among the state's business leaders, as well as secure funding for additional science and technology exposure.

“As a mom of two boys, I understand being a working mother and having to decide what to do with my kids,” she said. “For me, as well as for the chamber, it wasn’t just about having a program—it was about providing something valuable. Were they offering something meaningful, or were they just babysitting?”

Washington

In Washington, Greater Spokane Incorporated and School’s out Washington have worked to promote statewide afterschool learning, with a focus on STEM skills and careers.

“School’s Out Washington is providing quality improvement and professional development support, and GSI is providing connections to business and STEM learning essentials that afterschool providers can use,” said Alisha Benson, vice president of education and workforce at GSI. “One of our greatest strengths as a chamber is our ability to convene many of the entities across the table on education and pipeline issues within the business community.”

GSI has implemented an initiative with SOW called Business AfterSchool, which is a series of industry skills workshops aimed at providing on-site awareness of Spokane’s high-demand jobs to students in the region.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for students to go into a business and take an in-depth look at those careers and how their skills work,” said Meg Lindsay, GSI’s executive director of education and workforce. “I think the really important piece of all this is that, as we enter a business setting, we’re really engaging business professionals in a way that kids just can't get during regular school hours.”

To learn more, watch our Webinar or visit Chamberpedia.  

Tags: Afterschool STEM, Education Attainment Division, STEM

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College town makes the grade

Ben Goldstein on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 8:00:00 am 

In early November, a group of stakeholders from Tuscaloosa publicly signed a memorandum of agreement outlining a shared commitment to integrate the region’s manufacturing and industrial base to better match the skills of students graduating from the University of Alabama.

The move was intended to realign the local economy to include more knowledge-based, tech-driven jobs, so the university city could retain a larger portion of its student population.

“The opportunity we have from an economic development perspective is diversifying our economic base,” said Jim Page, president and CEO at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “We’re hoping this formal partnership is going to lead to more knowledge-based jobs being created, so we can hold on to a larger percentage of our college grads.”

The memorandum was signed at the chamber’s annual State of the Economy event, in which it hosts local economic and subject matter experts to forecast trends for the upcoming year. The function was attended by elected leaders, university administrators and several local development agencies.

“The ceremony was really about generating public awareness, as much as anything,” said Page, adding that, “It was largely a symbolic gesture that shows we’re going to start working toward this new goal of collaboration.”

Page says the agreement was inspired by conversations from conference calls and roundtables with the University Communities Council, an ACCE peer-group that enables chamber pros from college towns to collaborate and share best practices. He credits Vern Squier from the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County in Pennsylvania and Lyle Butler from the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce in Kansas for introducing him to similar agreements from their regions.

“Right out of the gate, I’ve got two chamber colleagues who’ve had success doing this, so there was kind of a template for our group to use,” he said. “We never would’ve known about those agreements — and chances are we wouldn’t be where we are now — had I not been engaged with the University Communities Council.”

“We’re hoping this will enable us to grow and recruit more knowledge-based, white-collar jobs,” he added. “I’m hopeful that all of those forces working together can turn years of talk into real action, and that action will result in a diversified economic base that allows us to retain more of our best and brightest college students.”

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Tags: University Cities Council

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Midwestern momentum

Ben Goldstein on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 9:35:00 am 

For Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, the most important part of any strategic plan is the results. So when the chamber and its community partners began crafting Momentum 2022, he opted for a five-year plan, as opposed to some of the longer-running strategic documents seen elsewhere.

“We chose a 60-month plan because we wanted to have an immediate and measurable impact,” said Pivarnik. “We didn’t call this Momentum 2035 or Momentum 2050 for a reason.”

In its early stages, the plan was guided by a 43-member steering committee that drew from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Among the committee’s findings was a need for enhanced talent development efforts to build out a stronger workforce for the region.

“We put a very heavy focus on development of homegrown talent in Momentum 2022,” said Kayla Bitler, strategic coordinator at the Greater Topeka Chamber. “Some areas of emphasis are ensuring that all children are ready for kindergarten, and that every student has a pathway to college or a career.”

A second leg of the campaign is enhancing “quality of place” in the Topeka region, by building out amenities like pedestrian walkways, expanding access to the city’s riverfront and adding more recreational and residential offerings to the city’s downtown core—a process Pivarnik says is already underway.

“We’re seeing a real resurgence in restaurants and bars,” he said, adding, “If you want a loft in downtown, you’ll have to get in line, because right now everyone wants a loft in downtown.”

The plan calls for the consolidation of the Greater Topeka Chamber and three other economic development groups — GO Topeka, Visit Topeka and Downtown Topeka Inc. — into one umbrella organization, which will be called Greater Topeka Partnership. The organizations will retain their boards and CEOs, and will coordinate through a council including the four CEOs, their chair-elects and several at-large members.

“Bringing together these four groups will enable all of us to perform our work with a type of coordination we haven’t seen in the past,” said Curtis Sneeden, the chamber’s executive vice president. “We’ll enjoy a number of operational efficiencies just by being together under one roof.”

Pivarnik says he brought the idea for the consolidation of the four groups with him from his previous role at the Greater Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, which operates under a similar structure.

“When I was at the Tulsa Chamber, which has 15-plus organizations and brands operating under one umbrella, I didn’t understand how powerful that structure really was until I had to operate without it,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s efficient for cities to have all of these separate convention and visitors bureaus and downtown organizations.”

Pivarnik says he hopes that by 2022, people from around the world will think of Topeka as a city that has undergone a rapid transformation in a short period of time.

“When people hear about Topeka, Kansas, in the future, I want them to think of it as a ‘renaissance city,’ and a magnet for entrepreneurial development and talent attraction,” he said. “We want people from around the world to know about all of the positive things happening in our region.”

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Tags: Economic Development, Strategic Plan, Talent Attraction and Retention, Topeka Chamber

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Immigration fuels the Great Lakes region

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 9:00:00 am 

The Great Lakes region is an economic powerhouse, fueled by manufacturing, international trade and a combined GDP of more than $6 trillion.

One of the biggest drivers of regional growth is sometimes absent from the popular narrative—immigration. That message is on display in a new report from the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, published in partnership with New American Economy.

“We wanted to respond to the narrative that our region is isolationist and not welcoming of immigrants,” said Brandon Mendoza, manager of government affairs at the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted to say, 'actually, immigration in this region has helped accelerate our economies away from what folks refer to as the Rust Belt and the manufacturing decline.'”

One important way that immigration fuels economic growth is by combatting population decline and out-migration. Immigrants were responsible for more than half of the region’s population growth from 2000–15. Foreign-born workers are also younger, on average, than their native-born counterparts, which helps keep the region’s workforce youthful and vital as Baby Boomers retire in large numbers.

“When you look at the top 25 metros in the Great Lakes area, immigration has been a net-positive in terms of reversing out-migration and growing their populations,” said Mendoza. “It’s a lifeblood for a lot of these cities like Pittsburgh, Rochester or Akron, where slow population growth really acts as a drag on economic growth, in general.”

But immigrants are not only filling jobs, the report found. They are also creating them, in large numbers. The study found that immigrant entrepreneurs make up 20 percent of small business owners, and have created over 226,000 jobs in the region from 2000–15.

“Immigrants, by their very nature, are risk-takers,” explained Mendoza. “They’re taking a big risk moving to a foreign country and restarting, so they’re more inclined to start new businesses.”

Mendoza stressed that immigration should be understood as a regional issue, not a national one.

“Our whole message is that we should be thinking about immigration in terms of regions,” he said. “In the Great Lakes region, we really need to make sure our immigration numbers are high and we’re supporting high-skill immigrants, as well as comprehensive legislation at some point in the future.”

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Tags: Great Lakes Chambers Coalition, Great Lakes Region, Immigration, Research, Survey

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Energized to save

Ben Goldstein on Monday, November 13, 2017 at 8:00:00 am 

Tony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, has seen a lot of things change in his 17-year career leading the organization. And even now, as he makes plans to step down from the helm, Rescigno is exploring ways to transform the chamber’s energy footprint to a more sustainable model better-suited for the 21st century.

He’s doing it through the Energize Connecticut initiative, a partnership between the state of Connecticut and its utility providers that helps businesses and residences trim energy costs. The program is funded through the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which, in turn, is paid for through a surcharge on customer energy bills.

“A year ago we went from having a lease that didn’t include energy costs to a new lease that required us to pay, and you have a different attitude when you have to pay for it,” said Rescigno. “Through this program, we’ve estimated projected savings of over $5,000 annually, which is huge for us.”

Rescigno says the chamber has already realized substantial savings by swapping out the chamber’s old lighting for 256 LED fixtures designed to reduce costs and improve lighting quality. Next, he wants to replace the chamber’s fleet of 45 heating and air conditioning units with newer, more efficient models through the energy initiative.

“The cost of energy in the state of Connecticut is unbelievably high, and it’s one of the major deficits we face trying to attract businesses,” said Rescigno. “The fact that we’re showing other businesses how to lower those costs by investing in energy efficient alternatives is something we’re very proud of.”

Through Energize Connecticut, workers from state utility United Illuminating visited the chamber and drafted a conservation plan to help it identify opportunities for saving. The chamber’s monthly lighting bills are already one-third lower, down from $1,500 to $1,000.

“The first thing they do is send somebody to do an analysis and literally count the light fixtures,” said Rescigno. “The total investment on our part is less than $4,000, and we plan on making that all up in a year or less, so we weren’t at all worried about putting up the cash for this.”

Rescigno, who announced plans to retire earlier this year, said he’s accepted a part-time position at Southern Connecticut State University as a business executive-in-residence. One of his tasks in that job will be facilitating collaboration between the local business community and its talented student population, which includes Yale University.

“My next job will involve connecting the business school with the students with the businesses in the region,” he said. “That plays into my strengths, because I’ve been around a long time and I know a lot of these people.”

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Tags: Cost-Savings, Energy usage, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, Sustainability

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Think big, Shop Small

Ben Goldstein on Friday, November 3, 2017 at 11:00:00 am 

Small businesses are the backbone of local economies, and oftentimes are some of the most engaged members of chambers of commerce. Small Business Saturday, which falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was launched by American Express in 2010, as a way to encourage people to patronize small businesses.

Each year, American Express invites community organizations, businesses and chambers of commerce to pledge to be Neighborhood Champions, and provides them with resources and marketing materials to promote the day.

Here are a few ways chambers are celebrating, and why they’ve made it a priority to do so.

How is the chamber celebrating Small Business Saturday?

Jessica Hart, Billings Chamber (Mont.): “For the past five years, we’ve made a Monopoly board featuring our small business members. Because it’s grown so much since then, we’ve decided to make a checkers board instead for this year. The way it works is people shop at the businesses on the board and return their game pieces to any of the participating businesses. That way they can enter to earn gift cards and prizes from our members.”

Robert Killen, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce (Ore.): “Now that Small Business Saturday is fairly-well established, we’ve decided to launch a full suite of programs throughout the month of November, which we’ve identified here as business development month, like a leadership symposium, some lunch-and-learns and a half-day business conference. We’re also creating a bingo card filled with businesses participating in our downtown region, and once somebody gets five in a row they can turn that into the stores and enter into a raffle for some gift baskets we’ll assemble, too.”

Anna Rainhouse, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce (N.Y.): “We’re having a kick-off party where we’re giving out goody bags of promotional materials and save-the-date pamphlets for our member businesses. We’re also promoting what we call the “12 Days of Shopping Small,” where we’re using little passports, and anybody who shops locally over the next 12 days can get their passport stamped and return it for prizes and rewards.”

What is the value of celebrating the work that small businesses do?

Jessica Hart (Mont.): “I think that small business is about building your community. Spending your money locally helps your friends and neighbors build something better for your community, so we can keep these businesses open and thriving.”

Robert Killen (Ore.): “Supporting small business is support for an entire community. We know that a dollar spent in a small, locally-owned business largely stays in the community in ways that making purchases any other way simply can’t. The more dollars we retain in a community, the stronger it is for everyone.”

Anna Rainhouse (N.Y.): “The small businesses in our area are really the heart and soul of our economic system in a small town like Watkins Glen, so promoting them and supporting them in any way we can is going to be really beneficial for the whole community.”

This year, ACCE invites members to participate in a contest that highlights Small Business Saturday successes. Tell us how your chamber of commerce is encouraging the community to #ShopSmall. Learn more.

Tags: #ShopSmall

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Harnessing the Internet of Things

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 at 2:36:00 pm 

Atlanta, home to the world’s busiest airport and some of the top global supply chain companies, has long been known as a transportation hub. Now, the city is leveraging its expertise to capitalize on the next big technology in logistics and connectedness: the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Internet of Things refers to the interconnection of devices, appliances and other items embedded with electronic sensors through the infrastructure of the internet. Its proponents predict that it will disrupt and revolutionize everything from manufacturing and supply chain management to healthcare and energy management.

“Infrastructure-wise, we’ve already got the framework here in Atlanta to be a leader in the mobile IoT space,” said Cynthia Curry, director of IoT at Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “We have strong ecosystems like cybersecurity and fintech that are going to be vital to the growth of IoT.”

In September, Metro Atlanta Chamber expanded the focus of its major councils to include the biggest regional voices in IoT, like GE, AT&T and The Weather Company. The new taskforce, IoT.Atl, will focus on expanding educational offerings for IoT-related skills, bridging relationships between small firms and large enterprises and attracting top IoT talent and investment to the Atlanta region.

“Mobile IoT is basically touching everything right now,” said Curry. “When you take IoT and all the data that’s going to be generated from the billions of connected devices and combine that with the open-source, open data mentality we’re moving toward, we’ll be able to gain much better insight on what’s happening in the world around us.”

Atlanta is already experimenting with IoT and big data. In 2016, the city partnered with Georgia Tech to construct the North Avenue Smart Corridor, which uses hundreds of embedded sensors to remotely monitor lighting and energy levels and help police catch criminals by tracking gunfire in high-crime areas.   

“There are huge economic reasons why this will impact companies’ bottom lines and help them save millions of dollars,” said Curry, adding that, “What’s perhaps more important, though, are the huge health benefits we can realize from monitoring things like diabetes and heart disease through connected devices, if managed correctly.”

The IoT innovations being pursued in Atlanta will ultimately better the quality of life in the city for everyone,” says Curry.

“I think it’s going to work itself out of the tech community and into the citizens’ everyday lives,” she predicted. “I see Atlanta being one of the next smart cities of the future and people here being able to enjoy easier commutes, safer environments and better health care.”

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Tags: Internet of Things, Metro Atlanta Chamber, Technology

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Indy goes global

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 1:42:00 pm 

Indianapolis, with its burgeoning life sciences, technology and manufacturing sectors, has transformed itself into a bona fide global city. To capitalize on its rising status, the Indy Chamber and its community partners spearheaded Accelerate Indy, the metro area’s first comprehensive strategic plan in more than 20 years.

“Accelerate Indy is a strategy for the next 10 years on how to move this region forward,” said Maureen Krauss, chief economic development officer at the Indy Chamber. “It was a truly inclusive process between mayors, economic developers, private business and the philanthropic community—which really says a lot about how things are done here.”

A major leg of the plan calls for fostering talent among startups and entrepreneurs. Accelerate Indy addresses this through the Business Ownership Initiative, which contains the largest chamber-run microloan program in the U.S., and offers business coaching with a curriculum that includes topics like building a business plan and managing financials.

The plan also aims to expand and diversify international trade in the nine-county metropolitan area. This led the chamber and its partners to develop the Metro Indianapolis Global Trade & Investment Strategy, which aims to expand global trade by leveraging the region’s life sciences ecosystem and investing in its transportation infrastructure.  

“Indiana is already the number one export-dependent state in the U.S., but the bulk of that trade is concentrated in just a handful of large corporations,” said Krauss. “This plan will help our companies realize the benefits of a diverse customer base, while exploring new markets and technology partnerships.”

To embrace its newfound global status, the Indy Chamber has helped the city send ambassadors to countries like Poland, Hungary and Cuba. It is also trying to get local companies focused on global opportunities through Global Indy, a program that serves as a resource center for businesses looking to advance their international operations.

“By encouraging international decision makers to come here and have dialogue, we’re strengthening our base and helping our economy grow,” said Krauss. “It’s made a big difference building awareness that we have strong assets in our region that are valuable around the world.”

Accelerate Indy helps the region’s largest players, or its “anchors,” expand through the Anchor Revitalization Initiative, which boosts these companies by strengthening supply chain relationships and further developing their talent pipelines.

“It used to be the case that economic development strategies would be focused solely on getting companies to move from other regions,” said Krauss. “We know how many jobs are created by our businesses here in Indy, so we’re trying to figure out how we can help them continue to grow and expand.”

The chamber has used surveying, focus groups and research from local and national consulting firms to formulate a communications strategy that complements the economic development components of Accelerate Indy. The goal, says Krauss, is to better tell the story of the Indianapolis business community.

“Any time we want to tell our story, we want it to be authentic,” she said. “Doing this really deep dive into the components of our story is ultimately going to boost business and talent attraction in Indy.”

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Tags: Accelerate Indy, Chambers of Commerce, Indy Chamber, Strategic Plan

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Work hard, play hard

Ben Goldstein on Monday, October 23, 2017 at 10:00:00 am 

At the Vail Valley Partnership in Eagle County, Colorado, President and CEO Chris Romer encourages staff to take a “work hard, play hard” approach to doing business. Under the VVP's Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE), employees are evaluated solely on the results of their work—and given maximum autonomy to figure out how best to get the job done.

“At its simplest form, this is about treating adults like adults, and it’s about individual and team accountability,” said Romer. “If you manage people, they’re going to do the minimum of what needs to be done, but if you set the example and lead, then they will want to lead too.”

As part of the ROWE philosophy, VVP doesn’t adhere to the 40-hour, 8 a.m.5 p.m. work schedule common at most businesses and nonprofits. Instead, employees are only required to be physically present in the office for 20 hours each week and are empowered to structure the rest of their hours as they deem fit.

“We don’t think the most effective way to lead a team is by tracking where people are at every single hour,” said Romer. “We encourage staff to go to their kids’ school plays or volunteer in the community. If someone wants to take a yoga class on a Tuesday at 10 a.m., they shouldn’t have to take paid time off or track comp time to do that.”

Employees at VVP are given unlimited time off, so they can handle unexpected events like illnesses or family emergencies. The chamber is also experimenting with a new policy that would incentivize employees to “unplug” for two weeks each year, meaning they don’t check emails or engage with staff electronically during their vacation.

“We’re asking people to leave the electronics; no voicemail, no email and no checking on work,” said Romer. “With the golden handcuff of the technology, you’re not fully present with your family and when you come back, it’s almost like you were never gone because you were checking your email and voicemail every day.”

Some Fridays during ski season, the staff will take a morning off to hit the slopes together. Employees are granted free ski passes as a perk, which they can swap for other recreational benefits like stand-up paddleboards or yoga classes, says Romer.

“It goes back to valuing people and recognizing what we are as a community,” he said. “If skiing is their thing or yoga is their thing and it makes them happy, then they can come to work and be jazzed because they had a great time in the morning."

Despite the generous amenities and flexible work schedule, it’s not all fun and games at VVP. Employees are expected to live up to their end of the bargain by meeting monthly benchmarks and quarterly goals.

“We don’t do annual reviews with our team—we set targets and benchmarks and we review those on a monthly and quarterly basis,” said Romer. “It’s an ongoing feedback loop and dialogue with the team.”

Romer says that a flexible and accommodative workplace culture has translated into higher employee retention and customer service levels.

“It’s great from both an employee and member retention standpoint,” he said. “We give people direct ownership over their jobs, and that encourages them to provide a really high level of service.”

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Tags: Flexible scheduling, Paid Time Off Policy, Vail Valley Partnership, Workplace environment

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