Kudos, regional innovators!
The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives today named finalists for the 2017 Regional Innovation Award.
West Alabama Works
Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama
West Alabama Works recruits, trains, and empowers a highly skilled workforce driven by industry needs. The mission of this initiative is to meet the workforce needs of businesses in the critical industries in the region and to helping residents, particularly low-income residents and people with barriers to employment, obtain jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. The vision of West Alabama Works is that businesses will take the lead of the regional workforce development system to respond rapidly.
Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Omaha Chamber launched CAREEROCKIT to educate, excite and inspire members of tomorrow's workforce, help them soar to new heights, and rock future careers in Omaha County. The first-of-its kind effort, enthusiastically supported by community partners, brought their business and educational communities together to help students move along the learning pipeline, gain applicable knowledge and build excitement for local career options, all to ensure their region can meet its current and future talent needs.
Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community (MTRC) is a ten-county collaborative dedicated to supporting adults who aspire to earn a college degree to enter or reenter higher education (Reconnectors). The collaborative includes public and private nonprofit higher education institutions, the regions three workforce development boards, and community and employer partners. This initiative is part of the state’s strategy to help adults enter higher education to gain new skills, enter jobs that pay well, or advance in their current workplace.
Elevate, Retain and Attract + Bridge
Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce (Allegheny Conference on Community Development)
“Elevate, Retain and Attract + Bridge” (E. R. A. + B.) is a collective workforce strategy to align their education and training pipeline to meet projected workforce demand. The Allegheny Conference released an in-depth workforce report: “Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region,” spurred by innovation and technological change across every industry, and its implications for employers, educators and workforce talent.
ACCE's Regional Innovation Award recognizes organizations and alliances that are committed to building strong and vibrant communities through groundbreaking collaboration and program development. Learn more here.
Tags: Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Regional Innovation Award, #ACCEAwards, Awards, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce
Celebrating Communications Excellence
The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives today announced winners of its Communications Excellence awards program.
In late May 2017, six marketing and communications leaders from Arkansas, Louisiana, Manitoba, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin gathered at #ACCEHQ to carefully review more than 100 award submissions.
These entries highlight some of the freshest and most innovative marketing and communications work coming from ACCE member organizations of all types and sizes.
Each submission was organized by type — advertising and marketing, campaigns, digital and publications — and by the submitting organization’s total annual budget range: under $1 million, $1 to $3 million and above $3 million.
In addition to awards listed below, three “Best in Show” awards will be presented at the 2017 Awards Show.
Advertising and Marketing
Awards of Excellence
Advertising and Marketing
Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort Coast Is Clear
Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce
SAVOR: Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Restaurant Week
Greenville, South Carolina
Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce
Greater Killeen Business Quarterly
Congratulations, Chamber of the Year finalists!
The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives today announced finalists for the 2017 Chamber of the Year competition, proudly sponsored by Indianapolis-based WebLink International.
Finalists for 2017 Chamber of the Year are (sorted by category):
Georgia Chamber of Commerce
Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce
Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce
Charleston, South Carolina
Chattanooga Area Chamber
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce
Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Huntsville/Madison County Chamber
Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership
Plano Chamber of Commerce
Kalispell Chamber of Commerce
North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce
Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce
Des Moines Downtown Chamber
Des Moines, Iowa
Effingham County Chamber of Commerce
O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce & Industries
In the final phase of the competition, a judging committee conducts in-person interviews with leaders representing each finalist chamber. One winner from each category will be named at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
Learn more about Chamber of the Year here.
Tags: Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, Chattanooga Area Chamber, Plano Chamber of Commerce, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Des Moines Downtown Chamber, Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Chamber, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, #ACCEAwards, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Awards, North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, O'Fallon Chamber of Commerce & Industries, Chamber of the Year, Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership
Going green in the Gateway City
What can chambers of commerce do to get local businesses serious about going green? For Andrew Smith, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the answer is surprisingly simple: challenge them.
It all started back in 2010, when the chamber teamed up with the Missouri Botanical Garden to introduce the Green Business Challenge, a competition that encourages organizations to draw up measurable road maps toward achieving sustainability.
“The Challenge works with companies to help integrate sustainability into the kinds of day-to-day operations common to every business,” explains Smith, who oversees the program on behalf of the chamber. “Our aim is to make sustainability work in accord with each company’s unique goals and culture.”
By leveraging corporate competition and public recognition, the chamber encourages businesses to adopt sustainable policies and implement green practices.
“The global marketplace increasingly demands sustainability measuring, goal-setting and reporting up and down supply chains,” says Smith. “As companies engage locally with the basics of this range of accountability, they build resources needed to globally compete.”
Participating firms sign up for one of four program levels, ranging from “apprentice” to “champion.” They use a points-based scorecard to track progress, which gives businesses an efficient structure to plan and schedule work on a wide range of sustainable practice options.
“Each company determines its own strategy,” says Jean Ponzi who oversees the program at the Missouri Botanical Garden. “The categorized scorecard offers a comprehensive list of best practices to reduce waste, conserve energy and water, implement green purchasing and more.”
Companies are encouraged to assemble “green teams,” or groups of employees responsible for coordinating green strategy. Green teams collaborate with Garden staff, including Ponzi, who personally visits offices, plants and business campuses to advise firms on working with scorecard items that fit the company’s culture and capabilities.
“During site visits, we check out the supply closet, the break room, their parking lot and their dumpsters on the dock to get a sense of how green is working in each company,” says Ponzi. “Our customized coaching aims to improve financial performance, while reducing environmental impacts and engaging employees.”
Now going on eight years, the Challenge has achieved impressive results. Of the 65 organizations that took part last year, 98 percent formed a green team, 97 percent established a corporate sustainability policy and 86 percent implemented a green purchasing policy.
One standout from last year was Hunter Engineering Co., a Branson, Mo.-based manufacturer of auto service equipment. Through the Challenge, Hunter installed equipment to reduce stormwater runoff, committed to purchasing environmentally friendly print materials and made the switch to more efficient, fluorescent lighting.
“The Green Business Challenge enabled Hunter to take a close look at a number of our business practices,” says Chip Hiemienz, director of business development at Hunter Engineering Co. “While converting to more environmentally friendly products, we were also able to experience big cost savings, too.”
At the chamber, Andrew Smith is hopeful that the initiative will pay off in the long run, by enhancing the region’s reputation as a leader in sustainability.
“Our achievements are still a pretty local story, but we have world-class players on our green business team who have had real success through the Challenge,” he says, adding: “We’d like to continue to foster successes like these—and we plan to.”
New soft skills resource page added
Employers are finding that the arriving workforce has a shortage of soft skills—traits like communication, problem-solving and teamwork. That said, ACCE has just launched a new resource page with tools designed to help your chamber of commerce support the competent, well-adjusted workforce that business needs to thrive.
From case studies about chamber-led soft skills campaigns to deep-diving scholarly articles about character development, we've got you covered. These resources guide chambers as they work to instill strong character and build work ethic among the next generation of leaders.
Finding a seat at the table
Candace Boothby, CCE, president and CEO at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber in Georgia, likes to think of herself as a straight-shooter. At her job interview, she asked a roomful of board members a straightforward question: “In what ways is the chamber respected, and does it have a seat at the table?”
It was a question that no one wanted to answer. After a long pause, a board member finally spoke up: “Well, we’re at the table alright, but it’s the kiddie table,” he remarked to laughter from the rest of the room.
Boothby was undeterred, and her resolve to cultivate a new voice for the chamber has paid dividends. Since she took over the helm back in 2003, the chamber has nearly doubled its membership base from 550 to more than 1,000, and grown its annual budget from $281,000 to $825,000.
When discussing the chamber’s impressive numbers, Boothby answers matter-of-factly: “There’s no magic to this stuff,” she says. “Our chamber’s story is about understanding who we were, identifying our weaknesses and creating a culture that people want to be a part of.”
One of the first moves Boothby took as CEO was to unload some of the chamber’s events and programs, freeing up precious resources to focus on its core mission. The chamber gifted these away to other groups in the community, like the rotary club and the adult literacy program.
“Our new mission was to champion economic prosperity for our members, and these programs no longer fit the mission,” Boothby says.
The chamber reinvented its culture by promoting innovation and learning by trial and error. Boothby set the new tone by instituting a monthly “strategy week,” producing a comprehensive staff process handbook and encouraging employees to work remotely and hold meetings outside the office, in coffee shops or their own homes.
“We used the environment of the chamber as a laboratory to try stuff, and to have the freedom to make mistakes,” says Boothby. “Giving people more liberty to create their work environment has worked wonders for us.”
One of the biggest changes Boothby oversaw was revamping the chamber’s sales culture. She assembled a new sales team and hired a member retention specialist to spend 20 hours each week visiting members and collecting data. She also set an ambitious target to reach out to members 12 times each year, through a combination of phone calls, emails, written letters and social media.
Boothby advises her staff to keep all communications personal when reaching out to members.
“We send out handwritten thank you notes to all new and renewing members,” she says. “The key is to always add a personal touch.”
In 2006, the chamber began the accreditation process with the U.S. Chamber, not so much because it actually thought it could earn accreditation, but rather to use the process as a guide toward “closing the gaps,” says Boothby.
Boothby was in a meeting when she missed the call from the U.S. Chamber. “When I got out and listened to the message, I broke down in tears,” she recalls. “After seven years of hard work, it was the biggest reward to hear we had gotten the five-star.”
Another proud moment for Boothby was winning the ACCE’s Chamber of the Year award in 2015. She says the process of pursuing the award helped the chamber identify its weaknesses.
“I would highly encourage everybody to go through the process, because it’s a great way to learn about yourself,” she says. “It’s helps you gain self-awareness and figure out where to go next.”
Reflecting on the chamber’s turnaround, Boothby says her most important advice is “you’ve got to be willing to blow things up.” She encourages staff to ask the hard questions, like what would happen to the community if the chamber went away.
“You’ve got to have the courage to ask that question—to kill the sacred cow,” she says, adding: “the moment we get comfortable is the moment we take our eye off the ball. In this profession, we can’t afford to become complacent.”
Candace Boothby was recently featured as part of the ACCE’s Tales of Renewal webinar.
A chamber without members
Since the very beginning, the chamber of commerce business model has revolved around membership. At the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, that conventional wisdom is now being turned on its head.
Earlier this Spring, the Lancaster Chamber became the first in the nation to abandon the traditional membership dues structure—a bold move that upends more than a century of chamber orthodoxy.
The chamber hopes that by getting rid of dues, it will reduce barriers that prevent smaller or growing businesses from joining.
“Our mission is to have Lancaster County recognized as a model for prosperity,” said CEO Tom Baldrige, adding: “if we really mean it, we need to make sure that we’re offering our services to all businesses in a way that is welcoming and non-restrictive.”
Historically, the chamber has had about 2,200 members at any given time. There are more than 13,000 businesses in the chamber’s home county of Lancaster, though like other chambers, members come from other geographic areas.
“The fact that we were only dealing with those that joined and were ignoring opportunities with 11,000 other businesses led us to conclude that the traditional model was stressed,” recounted Baldrige. “We wanted to create a structure that was engaging of all businesses in the county.”
But what about the revenue? To support itself financially, the chamber devised a dual business structure consisting of two components: a “business success hub” that offers customized services on a fee-for-service basis, and a “community prosperity hub,” which seeks investments from businesses to finance the chamber’s agenda to enhance the community as a better place to live, work and do business.
“We call them investors, because they’re investing in the agenda and priorities,” said Cheryl Irwin-Bass, vice president and COO at the chamber. “It’s about being at the table and part of the discussions that influence the future of Lancaster County.”
The investors are sorted into ten different levels, consisting of three tiers with three levels each and a Chairman’s Circle tier for the largest investors. “Other chambers often ask why we didn’t just go to a tiered dues system,” shared Irwin-Bass. “This is very different, because it’s not about bundling things—it’s about unbundling. There’s not a lot of extras that come along with it.”
The chamber pitches the new model to members as they approach renewal time. “Before, if they dropped membership, it was a mark in the loss column,” recalled Irwin-Bass. “Now, we can tell them about the programs and services they may still be interested in, and steer their dollars into another business unit,” she added.
At the chamber’s annual dinner last year, acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell used a sports analogy to describe the changes underway in the chamber profession. Gladwell compared soccer to basketball, noting that the key to improving a soccer team is to build up the worst players, whereas the key to improving a basketball team is to make the best players even better, so they can dominate the court.
“In decades past, we were playing basketball,” said Irwin-Bass. “It was all about the biggest businesses, and we made our decisions around what was good for those companies.”
“Now, we’re playing soccer,” she continued. “The only way we can realize our mission is if every business and individual can reach their full potential. The better the individual does, the better the community will do, and that’s what we’re ultimately trying to achieve.”
The Lancaster Chamber will participate in a panel on the topic at ACCE’s annual convention, hosted this Summer in Nashville.
Building the Lodi Jobs Academy
As Baby Boomers near retirement, employers are scrambling to find skilled workers to fill a raft of new vacancies. Among the hardest to fill are so-called “middle skills” jobs, which require more education than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree.
At the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, CEO Pat Patrick partnered with the local school district to create the Jobs Academy, which strives to equip students with the skills and education that employers seek. The academy stems from Patrick’s experience at the ACCE Fellowship for Education Attainment, a one-year program that challenges chamber execs to dream up regional action plans that address education needs in their communities.
Patrick says the academy will lower dropout rates in Lodi and prepare students for high-paying local careers. “Our goals are to reduce dropouts between ninth and tenth grade, to increase community college attendance and to help students find work here in the community,” said Patrick.
The academy was born out of a partnership between the local school district, the chamber and its industrial business group, a group of area manufacturers. To develop the curriculum, the chamber formed a series of “skills panels,” which consist of representatives from local industries like health, manufacturing and IT.
“We are bringing business together with educators to make sure the schools are teaching what businesses need them to,” explained Patrick. “The state of California is finally waking up and putting money into the system for this type of thing, so we really hit it at just the right time.”
In addition to building a skilled workforce, the academy focuses on teaching “soft skills,” the kinds of personal attributes that employers look for in workers, like responsibility, timeliness and communication. The academy, which offers a professional certification, will serve as a filter for employers to find students who are committed to working in the community.
“The idea is that employers will meet students and say, ‘this is someone we would like to have join us when they graduate,’” said Patrick. “It acts as a filter to find serious future employees and prepares them for a job that is far beyond minimum wage.”
The academy also contains an adult school, which caters mainly to young adults ages 18-24, although there is no official age limit. The adult school holds class during night hours, while the campus is reserved for middle and high school students during the day. Many of the adult students never finished high school and are looking for middle skills jobs that don’t require a college degree.
To promote the academy, the chamber used social media and robocalls to reach out to students and parents in the community. The chamber also plans to produce a series of promotional videos that will be shown in schools and online. Students will have the opportunity to attend a business fair and tour local plants to learn about the kinds of jobs that exist in the community.
Patrick credits the ACCE Fellowship for provided him with the resources and inspiration to pursue the initiative. “The Fellowship was invaluable to me, because I was exposed to a lot of ideas that expanded my thinking,” said Patrick. “The exposure to corporations like the Lumina Foundation and the research they’ve done helped me understand how to sell our program to the manufacturers back home.”
Looking ahead, Patrick is hopeful that the Jobs Academy will expand into neighboring North Stockton, a city of 300,000 just north of Lodi. “My hope is that we’ll be able to pull students from Stockton into an expanded campus and form a partnership with the Stockton district,” said Patrick. “I would love to see this move from a small community to a regional effort.”
Sales tales: Sales Training highlights
ACCE’s annual Sales Training Conference is an opportunity for chamber professionals to learn the latest membership development tips, trends and techniques from some of the best in the biz. This year’s event, hosted in St. Louis with the gracious support of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, brought together about 60 members from far and wide for a little March membership madness.
Here are a few takeaways from the gathering:
Chamber on the Go
Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, likes his staff to get out into the community for member interaction. Last August, the chamber launched its #BCC Visits initiative, during which chamber staff visited more than 500 local businesses. To get around, the chamber traveled by subway, bus, ferry and foot and used geocoding tools to target areas with the highest concentration of businesses.
“This was a way to deepen our understanding of what our members need and to put a face on the chamber,” says Hoan. “Instead of just getting emails and telephone calls, members actually see a real human being.”
One story stands out for Hoan. When the chamber visited a spin studio, its owner complained about a pothole on the street. The chamber contacted the appropriate agency and the pothole was filled soon after. The chamber would have never known about the pothole, and its member’s frustration, had it not ventured out into the community.
“People won’t open up to you through mass email or over the phone,” shares Hoan. “When you visit them and see for yourself what their issues are, you have clearly demonstrated the value-add of chamber membership.”
Content is king
The content-to-sales ratio should be 3:1, says Kyle Sexton, a marketing strategist and Sales Training Conference presenter. Instead of selling tickets and asking for money, chambers have an opportunity to produce – and lead members to – more engaging and valuable content.
“This economy rewards brands that put value in front of the transaction, not behind it,” Sexton says. “We need to add more value to the conversation and stop asking for money all the time.”
Sexton’s suggestions for chambers? Teach members about business; stop educating them about the chamber. One way for chambers to better engage members is to help them learn how to share their stories with the community.
“We can do a better job carrying on the conversations they care about,” says Sexton. "In order to do that, we need to think like an editor and act like a journalist.”
How you buy is how you sell
When it comes to selling membership, “how you buy is how you sell,” says Duane Weber, Indy Chamber’s director of membership and sponsorship sales. Take car buying, for example; some people spend months shopping around and test-drive six or seven cars, while others do a little research and make their purchase quickly. The key to selling, Weber says, is to tailor the pitch to the buyer’s preferred style of decision-making.
“Some people like to read the fine print,” says Weber. “I’m not one of those people. I’m a strategic, big-picture kind of guy. Just show me a summary.”
Weber says that when the seller’s style is mismatched with the buyer’s style, an uncomfortable experience can result. “As a big-picture buyer, it drives me crazy when a detail-oriented person sells to me. I’m thinking, ‘C’mon! You had me 10 minutes ago!”
Weber’s tip for connecting with prospects that have gone dark: try something unconventional. Give them an opportunity to say no. Send a message asking if they’re still interested; and offer to close their file if they’re not. “It’s okay to say you’re not interested!”
It’s about mission and community, not golf
Dues and sponsorship figures are essentially arbitrary sums, argues Doug Holman, a consultant with Holman Brothers, a firm that specializes in chamber membership. Chamber membership staff treat these numbers like they “came down from the mountain,” endlessly justifying how members will earn a return on their investment.
“We have to sell community,” says Holman. Too often, chambers err by selling events to prospective members, instead of their missions—which is what business leaders really care about. “They’re not paying you because they want to attend your annual dinner or your golf tournament,” continues Holman. “They’re paying you because they believe in what you do.”
Chamber pros are passionate about serving their communities, and this is what business leaders want to support. “There’s simply no way to guarantee results from attending chamber networking events,” says Holman. Instead, the goal is to help business leaders “recognize that without the work of the chamber, the community would be a very different place.”
Chamber pros tackle education pipeline, celebrate graduation
A group of 20 chamber of commerce professionals is celebrating this week because they’ve just completed ACCE’s year-long Fellowship for Education Attainment, which wrapped up Wednesday with an event in Indianapolis.
The 20 Fellows were invited to participate in the immersive fellowship program based on a handful of qualifications. Fellows must demonstrate a commitment to improving the birth-to-career education pipeline in the communities they serve. And, a community’s education attainment goals must be already defined by the chamber of commerce for applicants to be considered for the Fellowship.
“My favorite part of the Fellowship program is seeing how relationships are built amongst the Fellows,” says Michelle Vegliante, senior manager for community advancement at ACCE. “By the final session, they each leave with nineteen close-knit colleagues that they can call on for guidance and support. The transformation from peer acquaintance to lifelong friend is extremely rewarding to see.”
During the year-long program, Fellows study best practices in education attainment through interaction with national experts and inclusion in an unmatched peer-to-peer network that includes former Fellows. Each Fellow develops a Regional Action Plan that identifies and addresses specific education attainment and workforce development issues that impact the community they represent. Work conducted throughout the year-long program is compiled and included in a final summary report.
“There is no greater way to serve your members than by establishing a workforce that will economically sustain your community,” comments Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. “Postsecondary education is the answer, and ACCE’s Educational Attainment Fellowship is the best way to prepare for this critical challenge.”
The Fellowship for Education Attainment was launched in 2014 to provide chamber professionals with guidance and resources to mobilize efforts that improve education outcomes U.S. communities. As the Fellowship grows, ACCE tasks Fellows with helping chamber peers around the country build replicable programs in their communities.
“It’s nearly impossible to condense the superlatives about this Fellowship experience into a small space,” says Ann Kisting, executive director at the Chicagoland Chamber Foundation. “The sharing of insights, ideas and resources made this an inspiring, energizing and truly invaluable experience.”
You can meet the 2016–17 Fellows and check out their Regional Action Plan Summaries here.