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.”
Want to see your story featured in the #ACCESpotlight? Share it with Ben Goldstein.
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.
Montana on the mind
At 3,000 feet above sea level, tucked away between Big Mountain and Glacier National Park to the North and Blacktail Mountain and Flathead Lake—America’s largest— to the south, Kalispell, Montana, isn’t the first place you think of when you think winter getaway.
So, when United Airlines announced it was launching a two-month trial series of direct flights from San Francisco to Glacier Park International Airport in December 2016, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitor Bureau (KCVB) knew it had to find a way to capitalize on the opportunity to attract tourists and increase regional awareness.
“The main driving factor was filling the seats on those flights,” said Kate Lufkin, marketing and communications specialist at the KCVB. “With a trial flight like that, the better it performed, the more likely the airline is to expand service, so we really wanted to fill those seats.”
The KCVB teamed up with a public relations firm based in Missoula, Montana, to brainstorm a marketing and advertising campaign to promote the region as a wintertime tourist destination in the San Francisco Bay Area market. The intended target audience was young, active adults who are passionate about outdoors adventure and skiing.
“A lot of people don’t think of us as a travel destination in the winter, but this area doesn’t shut down by any means,” said Lufkin. “We wanted to promote our skiing, snowmobiling and other winter activities, and San Francisco was a fantastic addition, because of the likeminded folks there that are drawn to the outdoors.”
The PR firm created native content for the Weekend Sherpa, a popular northern California-based e-magazine geared toward outdoors adventuring, which was promoted through social media, email newsletter blasts and as a feature on the online magazine’s homepage.
The series of sponsored stories, dubbed “Montana on the Mind,” featured rousing images of northwest Montana’s rugged, snow-covered landscapes, and generated hundreds of thousands of impressions on social media.
The KCVB also targeted outdoor enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay Area through Facebook advertising, including carousel ads on both mobile and desktop newsfeeds. These digital efforts garnered over one million total impressions and generated nearly 3,000 link clicks to the campaign’s website.
The biggest development, however, occurred just after the campaign’s conclusion in February 2017, when United Airlines and Glacier Park International Airport announced expanded daily commercial air service to and from San Francisco for July through September 2017. The KCVB credits the success of the campaign in-part for the decision by United to expand its flight offerings to the area.
“I think it’s a huge testament to see the confidence United had to expand the flight beyond the two-month trial period,” said Lufkin. “We hope to see it continue to grow, and maybe even become a new year-round direct service.”
Another rewarding moment for the KCVB came when it learned it won a Communications Excellence Best in Show award from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives at the group’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee in July 2017.
“As a smaller chamber in a smaller market, we were thrilled to be recognized, even just as one of the finalists,” said Diane Medler, director of the chamber’s convention and visitor bureau. “When we found out we won Best in Show, we were just over the moon.”
Medler says the KCVB has continued to build on the winter campaign’s success with a spring and summer campaign. She says the key to launching a successful destination campaign as a smaller-sized chamber is to “be targeted and strategic” in your communications.
“You can’t be everything to everyone, and you have to decide who your audience is and what results you hope to achieve,” said Medler. “If you’re more targeted, then you’re ultimately going to be more successful, because your message will amplify and resonate within that group.”
Want to see your story featured in the #ACCESpotlight? Share your story with Ben Goldstein.
The origin of certificates of origin
For almost a century, governments around the world have relied on chambers of commerce to verify the origins of overseas exports. And, while the issuance of certificates of origin—first assigned to chambers through the Geneva Convention in 1923—is an essential function of the chamber world, it is also one of the least understood.
What is a certificate of origin?
A certificate of origin is a stamped document that verifies where goods are manufactured, so governments can assess tariff rates and enforce embargoes on imports. They are required for all international trade, unless exempted by parties to a trade deal like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The origin of the goods refers to the location the final product was assembled, not its parts. For goods that were manufactured in multiple countries, the country that bore more than 50 percent of the costs of assembly is considered the country of origin. All valid certificates must be signed by the exporter and then verified and stamped by a local chamber of commerce.
Advice from the pros
At the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Executive Assistant to the President Kristin Gochenour uses eCertify, an electronic certification software, to issue certificates digitally. The chamber charges exporters $20 per certificate, $5 of which is paid to eCertify, meaning it profits $15 per certificate, not counting the $1000 annual fee for the software. For exporters that hit 100 certificates within a calendar year, the cost is reduced to $10 per certificate, while nonmembers pay up to $75 each.
Asked if it would make sense for a smaller-sized chamber to issue certificates of origin, Gochenour said it “all depends on their volume,” adding, “They’d have to do at least 200 certificates a year just to recoup the eCertify cost for the fee, not even counting the $5 charge per certificate. It’s a substantial number.”
At the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, Vice President and Chief of Staff Justin Simmons swears by eCertify as the most efficient way to issue certificates of origin.
“The old, paperbound process required a courier or staff time for the company, and you’d have to actually sit down and manually stamp and sign,” said Simmons. “The efficiency gained for the exporter enables them to do it from their desk, with a much shorter turnaround than what it would take to drive them across town.”
Rife with fraud
Because of the decentralized nature of the certificate of origin process in the U.S., American exports have attracted scrutiny from foreign officials who have been tipped off about fraudulent behavior in the issuance process. Examples include documents signed by fictitious employees and chambers lending out their seals for companies to stamp themselves.
“The basic problem is lack of oversight,” said Chris Mead, senior vice president at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. “It’s been compared to a Wild West-type situation. Foreign countries are more on their toes now, so chambers should be careful that they’re issuing these certificates the right way.”
Scrutiny of fraudulent certificates of origin increased in 2011, after the Egyptian Consulate in Houston launched an investigation into improperly labeled food shipments. After determining that the goods were actually of Latin American origin, the consulate restricted certificates of origin for all but two chambers in a host of states.
“They did a test and quite a few of these certificates were not legit,” said Mead. “Egypt doesn’t have a strong food inspection system, so this potentially endangered the people living there.”
When deciding whether to issue certificates of origin, chambers should ask whether it will be a profitable enough activity for them to commit the resources needed to do the job right. And those who opt to issue should always act with integrity.
“Don’t lend out your stamp,” said Mead. “It’s like lending out your checkbook or the plaque you got for graduation. You just don’t do it.”
Want to learn more? Check out our Chamberpedia page on certificates of origin.
Congratulations, Best in Show winners!
ACCE’s Awards for Communications Excellence celebrate top-notch marketing work that effectively communicates policy work, the accomplishments of the chamber of commerce, community advancement and economic development initiatives, membership attraction and retention, events and more.
The top three entries — one from each size category — are presented the Best in Show award.
At the #ACCEAwards Show in Nashville, Tennessee on July 18, three organizations — Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Portland Business Alliance — were recognized as this year’s Best in Show winners.
Judges of this year’s Communications Excellence awards selected one entry — submitted by the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce — to receive a specially-created recognition called the “Literally Perfect” award. Honored for creative execution and attention-grabbing results, Chattanooga’s Literally Perfect series is, well, literally perfect.
In addition to celebrating winners of the Best in Show and Literally Perfect awards, Grand Award winners took to the stage and Awards of Excellence winners were recognized. (Check out this blog post, where we announced Grand Award and Award of Excellence winners.)