From the winner's circle: Stay strong and ChamberON
It’s been a whirlwind year for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. In the last fiscal year, the chamber radically revamped its total resource campaign and developed a master plan for the renovation of the second-largest research park in the U.S.—two achievements that helped it land the much-coveted Chamber of the Year award from ACCE.
“We feel blessed,” said Chip Cherry, president and CEO at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “As someone who has seen the judging process up close and personal, this award is truly humbling.”
One of the biggest undertakings of the year was the restructuring of the chamber’s total resource campaign, which had become unwieldy and duplicative due to its large size. Before the modifications, there were more than 45 volunteers working independently of one another, which burdened chamber staff by requiring them to spend an inordinate amount of time managing the program.
“In short, the volunteers’ goals and objectives had diverged from the chamber’s,” said Cherry, adding that “the focus had shifted to rewards, and this caused some friction among our staff.”
To rectify the situation, Cherry made the decision to whittle the program's ranks down to just 11 volunteers from the initial 45. He also hired a full-time staff member to oversee the campaign, which was rebranded as “ChamberOn,” to reflect its renewed mission and reinvigorated sense of purpose.
These changes have revived the performance of the program, which has increased productivity by nearly 15 percent since late 2015. The operating costs have also been cut, because of the smaller size of the volunteer cohort and the reduced amount of trips and rewards they require.
“I have not heard a single complaint from any of my members related to this process,” said Cherry. “Occasionally, when there's an event coming up and we have a few unsold tables or seats, we can count on these individuals to push hard and get it done. It’s led to us having a much better performance from our events perspective.”
Cummings Research Park Master Plan
The Cummings Research Park—the nation’s second largest—had seen better days. Built more than half a century ago to suit the needs of a mostly suburban generation of workers, the park’s oldest buildings were no longer viable and its restrictive zoning regulations prevented city officials from making much-needed changes.
“When the park was developed, it wasn’t really designed to attract people to come work there,” said Cherry. “The current generation wants to see a sense of place versus just a piece of real estate.”
The chamber led a committee, including partners from the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville/Madison County Industrial Development Board, to craft a 50-year master plan for the park. The committee wanted to enhance the park’s appeal by installing amenities like bicycle lanes, greenways and pedestrian paths. It also lobbied to overhaul the outdated zoning regulations that, for years, had prevented the city from building apartment buildings and eateries on the edges of the property.
"We wanted to develop housing around the parks so that people can live there and then walk or bike to work,” said Cherry. “It’s sidewalks; it’s pocket parks; it’s centers where there will be restaurants and shops. Skilled workers want all of these different things.”
In May 2016, a press conference was organized to unveil the draft master plan to the research park’s many stakeholders. A 12-week public feedback period was held, with stakeholder sessions arranged in small and large groups. The consensus was positive.
“A plan is only as good as its implementation—which we’ve already begun,” said Cherry. “The entire community has bought into this process, and the feedback we’ve gotten has been through-the-roof.”
Coming off an eventful year and a big win at the ACCE convention in July, Cherry is adamant that the chamber not grow complacent. He sees revamping the chamber’s communications shop as the next major challenge to tackle.
“I think the biggest priority for us right now is trying to figure out how to get in front of the communications challenges we all face,” he said. “We want to ensure we have that relationship of trust where we can share the business point of view and be part of the dialogue. It’s one of the key things we’ll be working on this next year.”
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