From the winner's circle: Advocating for Paducah
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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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
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.
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.
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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Communicating your chamber's value
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.
As the world becomes increasingly diverse, the number of minority-owned businesses is on the rise. This shifting demographic landscape is encouraging chambers of commerce as they provide programming that supports these under-represented businesses.
Below, we provide brief overviews of two ongoing and successful chamber-led programs that are working to advance the state of minority-owned businesses in their regions.
West Michigan Minority Contractors Association
At the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Vice President of Business Services Dante Villarreal says the biggest obstacle facing minority-owned businesses is a critical lack of access to resources and connections.
“A lot of it boils down to lack of networking opportunities,” said Villarreal, adding that “part of the challenge facing minority firms is connecting with large companies, some of which just don’t know where to look to find them.”
Villarreal heads the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association (WMMCA), a program that strives to help minority- and women-owned contractors develop business relationships with larger companies in the area. The program offers bid announcements, monthly meetings and training sessions as part of its benefits package.
“The WMMCA is made up of two groups: minority contractors and non-minority firms in town that want more diversity in their supply base,” said Villarreal. “We bring the two groups together every month for a structured meeting, and that facilitates collaboration.”
At the monthly meetings, guest speakers from the business community conduct workshops and seminars on topics like contracting, insurance and marketing. The contractors review each other’s business plans and consult on goals and strategy.
“We help them understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they can address those,” said Villarreal. “These are very good masons and carpenters, but we want to help them develop their business side,” he added.
Villarrreal says the WMMCA stays in touch with participants after they complete the program, and continue advising them as necessary.
“This isn’t something you just do for a couple years and then you’re done,” he said. “Even after they’ve graduated and are successful, we want to continue to be the go-to resource for our minority business community here in Grand Rapids.”
Minority Business Accelerator
In Tampa Bay, the seat of Hillsborough County, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sponsored a study that found that minority-owned businesses, which account for nearly half of the county’s firms, contribute less than 5 percent of the county’s total revenue.
“The survey found that most minority-owned firms are predominantly small businesses that have 10 employees or less, and contribute about 9 percent of the total employment in Hillsborough County,” said LaKendria Robinson, director of the Greater Tampa Chamber Minority Business Accelerator. “They are making a big impact, but there are some disparities that are preventing them from having the impact they should be having.”
Five-to-eight businesses are selected to participate in 24-month cycles, in which they learn strategies to identify and overcome barriers to doing business. Companies selected to participate must have at least $500,000 in annual revenue and an active business plan.
During the first year, participants meet for 16 hours each month to participate in workshops and training sessions, and undergo a deep-dive assessment of their business plans. In the second year, they meet 10 hours per week and use the skills they learned during the first year to develop accelerated-growth plans.
“We have business development courses where we look at things like human resources, talent management, organizational management and leadership development,” said Robinson. “We’re really looking at a comprehensive curriculum to make sure they have the knowledge they need to continue to accelerate their businesses.”
Robinson hopes the Minority Business Accelerator will lead to increased job creation and more diversity in a wider array of industries in the region. She hopes that other counties will look to Hillsborough as an example of a community that has fostered inclusion in all sectors of the economy.
“We, as a chamber, are measuring our success in fulfilling our diversity and inclusion mission through our program participants,” she said. “If they’re successful, then we’re successful—and we can continue to fulfill that mission for years to come.”
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The case for internships
When it comes to landing that first job after college, research shows that completing an internship makes a world of difference in the eyes of hiring managers. Aside from providing students with work-based learning experiences, internships are used by communities to build talent pipelines that funnel students into the workforce.
The Fellowship for Education Attainment challenges chamber professionals to develop regional action plans that address specific education needs in their communities. Below, descriptions of plans devised by two former Fellows offer case studies on how to set up a successful internship program in your community.
Pathways to Pipelines
In the Chicago area, most employers judge internship experience as more valuable than other academic credentials, says Anne Kisting, executive director at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
In addition to helping students find jobs, Kisting figured internships could also solve a chronic problem facing regional employers—a severe shortage of IT talent. This led the chamber, in partnership with its local school district, to expand the Pathways to Pipelines initiative, which connects high school STEM students with small businesses from the community.
“We’re giving these students meaningful, work-based learning experiences that make them more attractive for employment,” says Kisting. “Some of these students come from schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, so these kinds of internships are a way to level the playing field.”
The chamber educates businesses owners about best practices in internships, including the need for soft skills training. To ensure success, the chamber hosted an education session for business owners on the topic of managing internships.
“It sounds intuitive, but it’s not,” says Kisting. “We equip small business owners with tips and advice to make this an optimal experience all-around. Being aware of the need for soft skills and being willing to work on them is essential.”
Kisting plans to work with local colleges to create a more direct school-to-employer pipeline and engage larger businesses by expanding the Pathways program. She also wants to see employers gain more perspective on internships and the myriad benefits they offer.
“I envision this expanding into the college internship space, so that a meaningful IT talent pipeline is created for employers in the Chicagoland region,” she says, adding: “I also hope that employers will be more educated about the return on investment in internships.”
In Springfield, Ohio, a city of 59,000 wedged partway between Columbus and Dayton, Amy Donahoe, director of workforce development at the Chamber of Greater Springfield, sought a way to use her regional action plan as a springboard to retain a larger share of the intern talent, much of which leaves the city after college and never returns.
“The main goal of Career Sync is to take the young talent while they’re working here for the summer and engage them in more aspects of the community,” said Donahoe. "We want to engage them with people and events and show them what we’re all about and the type of people that are here.”
Donahoe engaged local young professional groups to help brainstorm ways to enhance the internship experience in the city, efforts which culminated in a series of four educational and networking sessions, in which YPs would teach interns about topics like networking and personal branding, community attractions, negotiating compensation packages and investing and retirement savings.
Through Career Sync, the chamber was able to link up prominent employers with well-established internship programs like Speedway LLC, the gas station and convenience store chain headquartered in Clark County, with other, smaller businesses that are considering setting up their own internship programs. Career Sync also assigned young professionals as mentors to the interns to guide them and help them grow professionally.
Donahoe intends to grow Career Sync and establish a fundraising plan to raise money for the program, which had relied on volunteer time and donations for the educational sessions. She hopes to organize a larger event, like a sports game, to engage more interns and young professionals.
“I want to really engage a larger group of interns, so incorporating a big event is something we can do,” said Donahoe. “Based on the feedback I got from employers, it seems like they all think this is something that can grow bigger and have more of an impact in the future.”
Growth is a good problem to have, as the saying goes. But, for some communities, it can a concept that causes friction and resentment—particularly when they perceive it as not benefiting society at-large.
The challenges created by such misunderstandings are on display in the Cayman Islands, where 21,000 indigenous Caymanians often find themselves in direct competition with the 39,000 foreign nationals who supply much-needed manpower to the island nation’s $3.2 billion economy.
“Because our economy is growing at such a fast pace, we now have a situation where more than 50 percent of our workforce is held by foreign nationals,” said Wil Pineau, CEO at the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce. “Locals sometimes feel as though they’re not getting the direct benefit of that growth, and as a result, they’re feeling a bit threatened by it.”
To better educate its community about economic opportunity, the chamber launched Growth Matters, an award-winning campaign about the the importance of growth and the synergy between the private sector and increased prosperity. The initiative features a fun and creative 10-part animated series that explains the role of the private sector in a format that appeals to viewers of all ages.
“We’re trying to inform our community that economic growth is something that originates in the private sector,” said Pineau. “Growth is vitally important for any economy, and we wanted this campaign to provide examples of how growth happens and why it’s important for our future.”
After bringing together a committee of experts to write scripts, the chamber tapped ThinkMojo, a San Francisco-based animation company for help with production. Next, they partnered with Bliss, a local marketing firm, to create a standalone website, which integrates their Youtube channel.
“We developed the script, put an RFP together, got our fundraising in line and consulted our members,” said Pineau. “We really believed that animation was the best way to appeal to the widest cross-section of people.”
The campaign partnered with a local cinema to use its VIP screen as a venue to promote the new video series. Attendees at the premiere included elected officials, political candidates, media chiefs, business leaders and the general public.
“The cinema liked our message so much that they agreed to broadcast our series as advertisements for free over a 10-week period,” said Pineau. “They would air our videos as part of the ad scrolls before each movie, so we got massive exposure to our local community through that partnership.”
Pineau says he was caught by surprise when he learned the campaign had won a Communications Excellence Best in Show award at ACCE’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in July.
“As a chamber on a little island that’s really just a blemish in the Caribbean sea, I felt proud and humbled,” said Pineau. “It just demonstrates that good ideas can win awards when they’re well-executed and supported by your membership.”
The next step, according to Pineau, is for the campaign to develop educational materials and a curriculum for Cayman Islands public schools to use. He says the program will be geared for students ages 12–16, and will use the videos to teach them basic principles of economic growth.
“We just really want them to absorb the materials, because there are so many misconceptions and negativity about the private sector, especially in the media,” said Pineau. “We want to make sure students understand that the private sector isn’t the evil cousin out there, that they’re the ones who generate jobs and growth and positive energy in any community.”
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Statement: Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey has impacted many communities, leaving behind devastating floods and catastrophic damage. While the magnitude of the storm is unfathomable for most and the full scope of damage is unknown, ACCE members are eager to help.
ACCE has received many inquiries from chambers of commerce around the world asking what can be done now to assist peers in affected areas. We are monitoring the situation closely; our Urgent Response Task Force has been activated and is in contact with chamber leaders in communities that have been impacted. Until immediate humanitarian needs have been addressed and water begins the recede, we won’t know how to safely and most effectively help.
At this time, ACCE asks members to stand by and consider specific ways to assist with recovery efforts. We are exploring opportunities to provide direct aid to chambers of commerce and will share more information as it becomes available.
Recovery will take time, and work cannot begin until rain subsides and water recedes. The safety and welfare of Texans and Louisianans is the highest and most immediate priority.
In the near future, ACCE will ask members for assistance. In the meantime, please consider ways your chamber can assist when the appeal is made.
A few ways you can help now:
- Donate to the Texas Association of Business (TAB) Foundation's Chamber Relief Fund, which will exclusively support Texas chambers that have been most impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Checks, made payable to TAB Foundation, can be sent to: TAB Foundation Chamber Relief Fund, Attn: Aaron Cox, TAB/TCCE, 1209 Nueces St., Austin, TX 78701. TAB Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) and contributions are 100% tax deductible.
- Participate in the “Adopt A Chamber/Community” initiative led by a partnership of the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives and the Texas Association of Business
- Donate to American Red Cross or Salvation Army, for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts
- Send notes to people you know in Texas and Louisiana, letting them know that they are on your mind and that you’re ready to help when the time is right
- Put money aside, so that you can contribute directly to or join chambers of commerce that have been most severely impacted
Please consider that our friends (your chamber peers) are working to address immediate needs, both personally and professionally. Many homes, offices and communities have sustained serious damage and total devastation.
The chamber of commerce community is strong, and we’ll work together to help our friends with recovery at the appropriate time.
(For information and resources on disaster recovery, visit this page.)
From the winner's circle: Chattanooga 2.0
In 2008, as the world wrestled with the fallout from the global financial crisis, growth in Chattanooga, Tennessee barely skipped a beat. Now, the city is showing signs of growing pains, with its workforce lacking the education attainment levels needed to fill the high-paying jobs arriving every day in Hamilton County.
To correct this misalignment, the Chattanooga Chamber and its community partners introduced Chattanooga 2.0, an initiative designed to increase the portion of Hamilton County adults with a college degree or technical training certificate from 38 percent to 75 percent by 2025. The chamber estimates that 80 percent of the 15,000 new jobs expected over the next several years will require a post-secondary degree.
“There’s not only an economic imperative, but also a moral imperative,” said David Steele, vice president of policy and education at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of what makes Chattanooga such an awesome place to live and work was not awesomeness that was being enjoyed by everyone in the community.”
The initiative has already begun reshaping education in Chattanooga. The coalition has launched a new polytechnic academy housed in a local community college, which welcomes students from each of the eight city high schools and trains them in four localized career clusters. A partnership with Volkswagen AG provides industry credentials that often lead to high-paying jobs at its local plant.
“We are distributing certificate programs that lead to other degrees and credentials earlier in the pipeline, when the kids are juniors and seniors in high school,” explained Steele. “The goal is not simply degrees and credentials, but degrees and credentials that have a value within the context of our economy.”
The chamber solicited feedback from stakeholders over an 18-month period to identify obstacles to accessing college, successful programs for replication and strategies for bridging the gaps in available opportunities. At the same time, it kept the community updated through weekly print and online newspaper columns, letters to the editor, op-eds and email newsletters.
“We had school board members host town hall meetings, and we made presentations to every level of government,” recounted Steele. “The 2.0 program schedules two to three meetings a week, so an awful lot of communication takes place in conference rooms and around board tables. It’s become a really dominant factor here in our community.”
Although 2025 still looms far off, there are signs that the initiative is on the right track. Chamber publications predict that 20 percent of the graduating class of 2018 will have been involved in an industry credential program during their junior and senior years. The chamber's communications also speak volumes, with the coalition's website earning 3,600 average monthly visits and 1,500 subscribers to its weekly newsletter.
The coalition’s success was further validated when the Chattanooga Chamber was named Chamber of the Year by ACCE in July. The award recognized the chamber for its success with Chattanooga 2.0, as well as Thrive 2055, a regional growth campaign that complemented the 2.0 movement.
“The award has been a tremendous source of pride for our entire staff and the membership,” said Steele, adding that the chamber has taken the trophy on a tour of its regional councils. “It’s something the entire community has taken ownership of, and that’s been very exciting for us.”
But, even with the chamber still reeling from its big award wins at the ACCE convention, Steele insists the best is yet to come for the chamber and the Chattanooga community.
“It’s very gratifying to have received the recognition we have, but if you were to talk to our staff, the sense you’d get is that none of us feel like we’ve peaked,” he said. “We’re very focused as individuals and teams on building on the success we saw last year, and maintaining the momentum as we continue to enhance our organizational infrastructure.”
Want to see your story featured in the #ACCESpotlight? Share it with Ben Goldstein.