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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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Nevada Lights up the Capitol

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 11:20:00 am 

Lawmakers and Hill staffers were treated to a night at the casino when the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual gala on Capitol Hill last week.

At the celebration, dubbed Nevada Lights up the Capitol, attendees sporting cowboy hats and bandanas were greeted by cigarette girls and Venetian stilt walkers, as a jazz trio rattled off show-tunes and a contortionist writhed on a platform in the dimly-lit hall.

“We view this as an opportunity to bring our members together and enable them to build relationships with our leaders here in Washington, D.C.,” said Kristin McMillan, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. “It’s a great way to celebrate our state, while at the same time communicating to people in D.C. that there are important issues in the western part of the U.S. that need to be addressed.”

Guests at the party tried their luck at an assortment of table games like blackjack, craps and roulette, while snacking on hors d'oeuvres and sipping cocktails. Vendors representing organizations from across the state manned booths distributing swag and chatting with passersby.

“This isn’t just southern or northern Nevada—it’s the whole state,” said Bill Noonan, senior vice president at the Boyd Gaming Corporation and chairman of the chamber’s board of directors. “We have such a diversity of things to offer people who come and visit, and we want everybody to be exposed to that tonight.”

The gala kicked off the chamber’s annual D.C. fly-in, a tradition that dates back to 2006. Aside from the festivities, the chamber uses the trip as a chance to engage lawmakers, agency officials and policy experts on longstanding regional issues, like its ongoing opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository due to safety and environmental concerns.

“Yucca Mountain has resurrected itself with the new administration, so we’re fighting it with a multi-pronged approach,” said Cara Clarke, associate vice president of communications at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. “Because tourism is so vital to our entire state economy, any type of accident, even a minor one, could devastate that industry and scare tourists. It’s just too much of a risky proposition.”

Infrastructure is also a major priority for the delegation, which wants to see construction begin on Interstate 11, a planned freeway that would connect Phoenix to Las Vegas. Those metro areas are currently the two largest adjacent U.S. cities without a direct freeway link.

“With Interstate 11, eventually, we’re talking about building a pathway between the new ports under construction in the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Canada,” said Clarke. “The connecting of business and economies and trade and shipping will all be huge drivers for the entire U.S economy.”

McMillan says that she hopes that those who interact with the delegation during its time in Washington will gain a greater awareness of the issues that affect the western U.S.

“So many decisions that are made in Washington are viewed from an east coast perspective,” she said. “We’re hoping that there starts to be more understanding that when you invest in the West, you’re actually growing the national economy, too.”

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Tags: D.C. Fly-in, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, Washington

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From the winner's circle: Georgia 2030

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 11:45:00 am 

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce was coming up on its 100th anniversary when it decided to pursue a change of strategy. Prompted by shifting political, demographic and industrial headwinds, the new 15-year strategic plan, dubbed Georgia 2030, was meant to serve as a road map for leaders in business and government to better address new challenges before they become unmanageable.

“Coming into 2016, we were really faced with a state that’s rapidly changing, and we knew we needed to pivot as an organization,” said Kelsey Moore, director of economic development and special projects at the Georgia Chamber. “For much of the state, especially the rural counties, the outlook doesn’t look good, so we set out to empower them to change before some of these predictions become a reality.”

Chamber staff began by pulling data on demographic and economic trends, using subscription software from Chmura Economics & Analytics, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. They found that, by year 2030, Georgia will have an additional 1.9 million residents, and will no longer be majority-white or Republican.

Armed with their findings, a delegation from the chamber embarked on a tour of the state’s 12 regions, which was organized into a series of sessions held at affiliate chambers and open to the public. Attendees engaged with the presenters using interactive live-polling software, which allowed them to fill out surveys in real-time on their smartphones and tablets to provide feedback about key issues in the state. 

“We were selling out and it was usually standing-room only, which honestly came as a shock to us,” said Moore. “For a lot of these communities, no one ever really asked them before what they thought about these issues. They were really appreciative that we weren’t just lecturing them—we were actually listening to their opinions.”

The Georgia Chamber drew upon the survey data and insights gained from the listening tour and synthesized it into a strategic document. The final report found that 76 percent of respondents think the state’s legal environment is too costly for business; 83 percent support advancing dialogue with diverse communities; and 60 percent support expanding Medicaid or implementing a Georgia-specific alternative. Another major finding was that 85 percent of respondents want to see the chamber more actively promote Georgia-made products and services.

“We found that our investors and stakeholders expect the business community to be involved in issues that we weren’t previously involved in, like race, diversity and poverty,” said Moore. “We’ve always been involved in education, but there’s more of an understanding now that if a child doesn’t have enough to eat, he won’t be able to concentrate in class.”

The success of the Georgia 2030 strategic initiative helped the chamber land the coveted Chamber of the Year title at the ACCE convention in Nashville in July.

“It was a wonderful, outside nod to all of the blood, sweat and tears we put in and all of the thousands of miles spent travelling around the state,” said Moore. “Getting that recognition from an international organization really reaffirms the work we’re doing and gives us a boost to keep going.”

Looking ahead, Moore says the chamber plans to use the data and feedback from the listening tour to foster a dialogue with diverse communities about issues like healthcare, education and workforce.

“We received so much great feedback from across Georgia by engaging and conversing with all of our stakeholders and giving them a voice,” said Moore. “We know that if we can show you what the future looks like and start talking about it today, then we have the opportunity to change it. That’s a really positive thing for a lot of our communities.”

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Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards, Chamber of the Year, Georgia Chamber, Georgia2030, Strategic Plan

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Hitting the road with the AWB

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 12:15:00 pm 

The Association of Washington Business is going on tour. Assembled into two decked-out buses, the AWB team is crisscrossing Washington state visiting local manufacturers to celebrate  National Manufacturing Day. The six-day, 70-plus-stop tour has brought the group to a 154-year-old textile manufacturer, a four-year-old brewery and a maker of first responder vehicles, as part of an effort to promote locally-made goods and public policies that support makers.

“This is our inaugural statewide bus tour celebrating and highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy and the state of Washington,” said Kris Johnson, president and CEO at AWB. “We recognize that a vast majority of manufacturers are either privately-held or family-owned, so it’s not just about building strong companies, it’s about building strong communities and families as well.”

The crew is travelling in two buses, outfitted out with colorful logos and eye-catching designs. At every stop along the tour, workers are invited to autograph the bus and pose for a group photo with the signed bus in the background.

“How often has it been legal for you to write on a vehicle?” mused Johnson. “There must be 3400 signatures on it with the different logos. It’s really cool to see the all the personalization on this bus.”

Among the tour’s stops was Lampson International LLC, a family-owned maker of heavy lift cranes that employees 450 people in the Tri Cities area of southeastern Washington. They also stopped off at John I. Haas Inc., the leading provider of hops throughout North America.

“Every single manufacturer we’ve visited is so appreciative that we’re doing this,” said Johnson. “We are seeing a mixture of the types of products we all use in our everyday lives, but sometimes forget they are made right here in our local communities.”

Aside from meeting with manufacturers, the tour also includes an educational component. At Delta High School, a STEM school in Pasco, Washington, Johnson spoke to students about available science and technology opportunities in the local economy.

“At Delta, they’re preparing students for the types of STEM-related careers you can get when you’re done with high school,” said Johnson. “We know that 70 percent of all job openings by 2020 will require some type of STEM or post-K-12 experience, so these programs are really essential for developing talent locally.

Johnson says he hopes the tour will spread awareness about the important role that manufacturers play locally, as well as the policies they need to thrive. He says that issues related to regional competitiveness, like lowering tax rates on manufacturers, will be key to increasing prosperity in the state.

“The folks we’re meeting with clearly understand how important competitiveness relief is, especially when they’re competing against companies all across the globe,” said Johnson, adding that, “these companies could really use some predictability, reliability and common sense relief from a competitiveness standpoint.”

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Tags: Association of Washington Business, education, Manufacturing, talent, Tour, workforce

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From the winner's circle: Advocating for Paducah

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 11:00:00 am 

Since 1952, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been an economic driver in McCracken County, Kentucky. These days, the plant is still the premier employer in town, although since being deactivated in 2013, its workers have switched from powering the plant’s uranium-enrichment operations to cleaning and decontaminating the site, a long process expected to stretch on for decades.

The first federal contract for cleanup at the site was awarded for a three-year period in 2013. Because of the plant’s importance to the local economy, Sandra Wilson, president and CEO at the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, knew she’d have to take action to obtain a longer follow-up contract, which would provide a sense of certainty to the town of 26,000.

“From our community’s perspective, we needed the federal government to make it a longer contract because people need that stability for their future,” said Wilson. “Moving here for just three years doesn’t necessarily give you the feeling that you might want to buy a house and permanently relocate here.”

In September 2015, the chamber capitalized on its annual D.C. visit to make the case in person to Ernest Moniz, then secretary of the Department of Energy. During those meetings, Wilson invited energy department officials to Paducah to tour the plant and attend an “appreciation reception” hosted by the chamber.

It was there that Wilson was told Paducah had been chosen to receive a permanent display at the DOE building in Washington to commemorate the gaseous diffusion plant’s decades of national service. The 20-foot-long display would consist of panels recounting the site’s storied history, including its connection to former U.S. Vice President Aben Barkley, a Paducah native who helped the city land the plant back in the 1950s.

“We’re very proud that we were only the fifth community in the country to be invited to receive a display like this,” said Wilson. “It was really a big plus for Paducah that highlighted our site and the important work done there.”

The chamber’s relentless advocacy efforts paid off big in early 2016 when the DOE announced the plant’s new contract would run for a five-year term, followed by two renewal periods for a possible total of 10 years.

“With the renewals tacked onto the five-year contract, it is now likely that we will have stability for our workers for at least the next 10 years to come,” marvelled Wilson. “In that sense, we really achieved what we set out to accomplish through our advocacy in Washington and in Frankfort, Kentucky.”

The campaign on behalf of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was part of an eventful year for the chamber, during which it set new membership and revenue records and launched the area’s first young professionals group—achievements that helped it win Chamber of the Year at the ACCE convention in Nashville.

“When we got the call from ACCE, we screamed so loudly that the tenants upstairs came down to make sure we were okay,” recalled Wilson. “With our advocacy success and the other milestones we hit, it was just a wonderful accomplishment to be recognized for the amazing year we had.”

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Tags: Advocacy, D.C. Fly-in, Department of Energy, Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce

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Stormwater Solutions

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 

In San Diego County, which receives about 10 inches of rain each year, the issue of water use takes on a unique dimension. Because of its desert climate, the semi-arid region is almost completely reliant on water imports from other areas.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is working to change that, through its leadership of the Water Reliability Coalition, a new community group that explores ways to discharge and recycle stormwater runoff. Inspired by progress in nearby Los Angeles County, the coalition hopes that developing a holistic stormwater reuse strategy can reduce the drought-prone region’s dependence on imported drinking water.

Stormwater discharge in the metro area is regulated by the local and state water boards, which require all construction in the region to submit plans to reduce runoff, as well as develop strategies for treatment and reuse.

“One of the challenges we’re facing is more rain than usual, so storage becomes very important,” said Sean Karafin, vice president of policy and economic research at the San Diego Regional Chamber. “The water is very valuable if you can store it, so we’re trying to create that new water source while complying with regulations, which is really what makes it financially feasible in some cases.”

The chamber received funding from the San Diego Foundation to hold a series of public workshops to engage the business community and facilitate a dialog about stormwater reuse. These workshops culminated in the Stormwater Summit in September, where small groups identified important themes that were later summarized in a white paper by the Water Reliability Coalition.

In the white paper, the coalition identifies examples of other municipalities in Southern California that are successfully diverting stormwater for potable reuse. One such example is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Community Park Regional Stormwater Capture Project in Los Angeles, a system of drains that remove trash and sediment from stormwater runoff at the park, before diverting it to areas where it can safely infiltrate, or reenter, the ground.

Another project that was highlighted was the San Diego International Airport Authority, which developed best management practices for discharging stormwater runoff from one its terminal parking lots. The proposal will treat and recycle more than 30,000 gallons annually, according to the white paper.

“The airport authority actually believes that stormwater capture and reuse is important to the whole region,” said Richard Gilb, director at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “With over 600 acres of concrete basically that gets 10 inches of rain a year, that’s a lot of water. We think it’s a silver bullet.”

Karafin, while optimistic, remains realistic in his expectations about the long road ahead for widescale adoption of stormwater reuse technology.

“There are opportunities for stormwater capture and reuse, but it’s going to take some very collaborative and willing parties to make this situation better,” he said. “We’re not going to solve it with just the business community advocating. We’re going to have to work with environmentalists and our elected officials to all get on the same page about what makes most sense.”

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Art paves the way for economic prosperity

Randy Cohen and Emily Peck on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 8:30:00 am 

New research reminds us that supporting the arts and culture sector accelerates local economic development and creates vibrant communities.

Eighty-two percent of Americans believe that the arts add value to the economy and local businesses, according to an Americans for the Arts poll. Another survey by the Conference Board and Americans for the Arts reports that 67 percent of businesses support the arts because of their economic impact.82 percent of Americans believe that the arts add value to the economy and local businesses, according to an Americans for the Arts poll.

People and businesses agree: creating a strong and vibrant arts community isn’t just nice, it makes economic sense. Simply put, arts and cultural organizations are businesses that invest in communities and grow economies.

A recent report published by Americans for the Arts explains the importance of arts and culture to commerce. For the report, titled Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 Report (AEP5), researchers collected and analyzed data from nearly 15,000 organizations and more than 212,000 patrons to measure industry spending.

Typical attendees to an arts-focused event spend more than $31 each, not including admission costs. Collectively, consumption by those audiences sends more than $100 billion each year to local businesses in the United States. The economic impact is significant: supporting the arts means supporting 4.6 million jobs and generating $27.5 billion in government revenue, while also benefiting many business segments within a community.

Many arts supporters travel far and wide to attend performances, events and exhibits. In fact, 34 percent of said attendees live outside the county in which the event takes place. And 69 percent of these non-local attendees said their primary purpose for visiting a community was specifically to attend this arts/cultural event. When asked what they would be doing if the event being attended wasn’t taking place, 41 percent of local arts supporters said they would have traveled to another community for a similar type of event.

Perhaps what’s more astounding is that non-local attendees spend twice as much — $47.57 compared to $23.44 — as attendees from the local community. In short, that means opportunities are endless for local businesses to market a wider variety of goods and services to visiting arts supporters. When these events take place, restaurants see more customers, hotels have more visitors and retail stores have more foot traffic.

While typical non-local attendees spend almost $50 per event (not including admission costs) on average, visitors who book hotel rooms or reserve other accommodations for lodging spend more than $160 each, on average.

While supporting arts and culture, audiences also support local eateries of every variety, from fine dining restaurants to food trucks. About 54 cents of every dollar spent goes to culinary experiences.

And like hotels and restaurants, retailers benefit, too. From the purchase of gifts to souvenirs, one-fifth of every dollar spent by arts supporters goes to the local retail sector.

Transportation-related expenses account for $.10 of every dollar spent by arts supporters. This includes spending on mass transit, like subways, as well as ground transportation, such as taxis, buses and parking.

It’s easy to see how nearly every segment of a local economy benefits from a vibrant arts and culture scene. Art paves the way for economic prosperity. Additionally, art contributes to enhanced quality of life and creates unique cultural experiences.

By supporting arts and culture, chambers of commerce support restaurants, retailers, hotels and transit in the communities they serve. And, supporting arts means creating a more vibrant place for people in the community.

For more local and national data, check out the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 Report (AEP5), published by Americans for the Arts. Learn how can chambers of commerce can support the arts and culture sector at www.pARTnershipMovement.org.

Randy Cohen is vice president of research and policy and Emily Peck is vice president of private sector initiatives for Americans for the Arts.

Tags: Arts, Economic Development, Economic Impact

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From the winner's circle: Stay strong and ChamberON

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 11:25:00 am 

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.”

ChamberON

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.”

What’s next?

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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Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards

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Communicating your chamber's value

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 2:25:00 pm 

If you’re a membership sales pro at a chamber of commerce, you’ve probably heard something like this before while recruiting prospective members: “I would love to join, but I just don’t have the time.”

It’s one of the most common objections that chamber professionals hear as they try to recruit companies to join their ranks. And, it’s rooted in a misconception about the value that chambers offer their members and communities.

“If possible, try to identify your value in terms that rely less on attendance and participation,” advises Shari Pash, founder and CEO of Strategic Solutions for Growth, a consulting firm for chambers of commerce and other membership associations. “We have to be able to put our values into words, and then put them into our messaging. What is our brand? What are we known for?”

Pash says that chambers need to do a better job differentiating between members who primarily seek networking opportunities and those who join because they believe in the chamber’s broader mission to advance their communities as better places to work, play and live.

“I like to ask my clients: Are you a member organization that has events? Or are you an events organization that has members?” she says. “So many chambers tell their members’ stories beautifully, but they don’t take the time to tell their own stories.”

When approaching prospective members, Pash advises her clients to think in terms of WIFFM: “what’s in it for the member?” Chamber pros need to learn their value points; both functional services like trainings and discounts, as well as networking services like referrals and exposure.

“Because our prospects don’t know what they don’t know, we need to make sure we ask the right questions,” she says. “The more value points you can learn are important to them, the more effective conversation you will have.”

Even the best recruitment pitches, however, can fall flat when prospective members believe they lack enough free time to get their money’s worth from joining. Pash likens this attitude to that of a gym membership, in which the benefits of joining are only realized if you actually take the time to work out regularly.

“From a mission standpoint, all of the things you’re doing for your members are way beyond having to be involved like a gym membership,” says Pash. “Nowhere in your mission statement is it written that you have to have time to join.”

But, how can you tell if a prospective member will be more receptive to a networking-driven message or a mission-driven one? A good clue, advises Pash, is to look at their size. 

“Small businesses are more interested in exposure and growing their business; they need more customers and clients,” says Pash. “Still, it’s up to us to educate small business on the importance of mission and why it ultimately impacts their success.”

“Larger businesses naturally stay mission-focused,” she continued. “They want to see what kind of values we have and what we provide for the larger community, like education and workforce.”

A good way to develop the tool-set needed to effectively pitch membership have a group strategy session, in which someone transcribes your chamber’s various benefits and value-points in a written document, so the entire team will be on the same page, says Pash.

“There are 520 hours in a calendar quarter, so I recommend taking half a day to work on these tools,” she says. “Think about those four hours you spend. What does that do for the other 516 hours left? Are you more efficient and do you have better outcomes?”

Watch the full Webinar and question-and-answer session here.

 

Tags: Chambers of Commerce, Membership, Sales

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