ACCE and the World

Mick Fleming on Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 2:22:13 pm 

During the World Chambers Federation’s big congress in Mexico City earlier this month, I couldn’t help making comparisons with our own convention. Over drinks in the hotel bar the final night of the Congress, I received some help in my comparative evaluation from a handful of foreign chamber leaders who have attended both events.  My own prejudices about the value and power of ACCE’s gig were reinforced by this discerning gang of world travelers.

“I learn a lot more from ACCE,” said one big shot from another country. He added, “the program is much stronger.”

“In the States, you avoid boring, predictable political speeches . . . that’s a big plus,” said another.

“The attention to scheduling and logistical details helps to avoid wasted time when we come to the ACCE meeting,” offered another. 

And, of course, the inevitable comment by every foreign sampler of North American chamber hospitality,  “We had a lot of fun in Milwaukee.” 

All of this was, of course, very gratifying to hear over the five days of the Congress, in between speeches by President Calderon and Nobel Laureates. Here I was at the premier event for chamber leaders of the entire world. Some of the leaders at the Congress ran chambers with budgets in the hundreds of millions.

As much as I loved hearing the nice comments, I eventually realized that the real basis for their praise is that they don’t really have a basis of comparison. As nice a job as the Mexico City Chamber did with the World Congress this year, there is nothing really like ACCE in the world.  We are an entity that devotes 100 percent of our time and resources to one thing -– increasing the capacity, knowledge and networks of those who lead businesses and communities. Our convention is the manifestation of that mission. We’re not trying to provide a platform for politicians or the host city’s business elite. The ACCE Convention is just a meeting of chamber people, built by chamber people, for chamber people. It’s our learning lab, our best practices showcase, our party. I loved the people of Mexico City, and the WCF program was good. There's just nothing quite like the chamber meeting of choice put on by ACCE each year . . . anywhere.

I hope you’ll experience it this summer in Los Angeles. And yes, I’ll need your help to continue to impress visitors from around the globe.

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Attracting Entrepreneurs to Durham

Chaaron Pearson on Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 9:34:41 am 

From April 1 to May 31, North Carolina Research Triangle area entrepreneurs had a chance to launch their companies from downtown Durham for free, courtesy of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham, Inc. and Self-Help Commercial Real Estate.

The idea, called Bull City Startup Stampede, came from a conversation with Aaron Houghton, founder of Preation and co-founder of iContact. He thought more entrepreneurs should be exposed to Durham’s thriving downtown. He suggested giving Triangle-based start-ups a first-hand experience there, and the Startup Stampede was born.

The Stampede is an event consisting of 60 days of free space in downtown Durham complete with parking, office furniture and wi-fi.  Programming for the event was light but each week Stampede participants heard from successful Durham entrepreneurs on the ups and downs of launching a company.

At the end of the program, 15 startup business leaders gave their sales pitches. Three companies reached the product launch stage and all 15 who participated plan to keep working on their ideas.

A poll of Stampede participants found that 90 percent had a more favorable view of downtown at the end of the program, and 75 percent said they’d be more likely to launch in Durham again. “The Stampede was really about building awareness among Triangle startups as to what a great place Durham is to launch a company and the quality of the startup community here,” said Adam Klein, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. He said there are plans to launch Stampede 2.0 in the fall.

Visit the Startup Stampede website:
Visit them on Facebook: Startup Stampede
Follow them on Twitter: @startupstampede

Read more:
The Herald-Sun: Start-up Stampede comes to an end
The Herald-Sun: Durham startup pushing fitness program for busy executives
Triangle Biz Blog: Four to move from Startup Stampede to Bull City Forward
Durham Magazine: Startup Stampede rumbles along

Tags: Entrepreneurs

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North Myrtle Beach Chamber 1st in SC to earn Green Plus Certification

Brad Holt on Friday, June 10, 2011 at 10:40:09 am 

The North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce is the first organization in South Carolina to achieve Green Plus Certification, a program to help small businesses succeed while becoming stronger stewards of the environment and their communities. Created by the NC Research Triangle-based Institute for Sustainable Development, Green Plus, an ACCE partner, is a business improvement program that provides a roadmap on triple bottom line sustainability issues for smaller enterprises across the United States. Triple bottom line accounting means expanding traditional reporting to take into account ecological and social performance in addition to financial performance.

“In January 2010, when we announced that our Chamber was the first business association in SC to offer the Green Plus certification program to our members, I stated that the focus of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce was on a sustainable economy for our city and region,” said Marc Jordan, president and CEO of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. "By becoming Green Plus certified, we are holding ourselves up to our members as an example of how valuable this tool is in remaining focused on sustainable development.” Leading the charge in renewable energy, particularly wind energy, the chamber spearheaded the creation of the North Strand Coastal Wind Team to lead the community towards energy independence and establish North Myrtle Beach as an example to other cities. 

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Proposal to Mandate Paid Sick Leave in Seattle

Chaaron Pearson on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:18:35 am 

Seattle city council members will consider legislation that would mandate paid sick leave for all employees in Seattle.

If the bill to be introduced by city council member Nick Licata passes, Seattle will join Washington, D.C. and San Francisco in requiring private employers to provide paid sick days. The legislation in San Francisco may serve as a template for the yet-to-be-introduced Seattle sick leave bill.

The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce has been closely monitoring this issue. Members of the chamber’s tax and regulation committee discussed mandated paid sick leave in a spring meeting. The chamber plans to follow the issue and continue committee discussion once draft legislation is introduced. They also hope to gather opinions from local business members to gauge the business community reaction to such legislation.

Read more:

Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce: Learn more about a proposal to mandate sick leave in Seattle
The Seattle Times: Plan would mandate paid sick leave in Seattle Council Will Consider Citywide Mandatory Paid Sick Leave

Other mandated paid sick leave news:

Milwaukee had a similar mandate that was reversed in May when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill pre-empting local ordinances from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.

Connecticut recently became the first state to mandate paid sick leave for service workers who receive an hourly wage and are employed at a business with over 50 employees.

Related posts:

Policy Clearinghouse Blog: Governor Walker signs bill at MMAC
Huffington Post: Paid Sick Leave: Cities, States Putting Mandates on Employers
New York Times: In Connecticut, Paid Sick Leave for Service Workers is Approved

Tags: employer-employee relations

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A Dying City?

Ian Scott on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:45:05 am 

One camera, one continuous shot: nine minutes of proof that Grand Rapids is very much alive.

In January Newsweek included Grand Rapids in its list of dying cities, one of three Michigan cities to make the top ten list. Concerned and outraged, the community, led by Mayor George Heartwell and local artist Rob Bliss, struck back.

They orchestrated and filmed a nine-minute, continuously-shot music video set to Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The video featured more than 5,000 community residents doing everything from swing dancing to pillow fighting. One news report called it a “massive crowd ballet.” The cast included a who’s who of local business leaders, elected officials and media personalities.

Since it was uploaded to YouTube on May 26, the video has logged more than 2.7 million views.  Last Friday, Grand Rapids was named ABC News' Person of the Week.  Not bad for a dying city!

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Joplin Tornado:
Impact and Response

Mick Fleming on Monday, June 6, 2011 at 4:23:45 pm 

I received this email update today from Rob O'Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce:

Good morning, Mick.

Thanks for reaching out by phone. It was a hectic couple of weeks. We do appreciate you putting the Biz Recovery Fund on your website. Let me bring you up to date.

First, our thanks to our many fellow Chambers who have reached out to us during this time. Many have offered concrete guidance based on their own experience that has helped us begin to set a road to recovery for our community and members. Many also indicated they are doing fund-raising with their own members to help Joplin. Thanks so much for that.

Let me take just a moment to give you the impact of this storm. The tornado, according to the National Weather Service, had a track of around 20 miles. About 8 miles of that was EF4* and EF5*, mostly 5. And of course that entire 8 miles was through Joplin and our neighboring community of Duquesne. (*EF is an abbreviation for the Enhanced Fujuita scale, which rates tornadoes based on the amount of damage they cause. The six-step  scale ranges from EF0 to EF5, with EF5 tornadoes having winds exceeding 200 mph; EF4 winds range from 166-200 mph.)

More than 140 of our family members, friends and neighbors were killed, the largest single tornado death toll in more than 60 years.

More than 1,000 were injured. The storm destroyed nearly 7,000 housing units, about 30% of the total, and displaced more than 12,000 people. The high school, one new middle school, two elementary schools and the trade school were destroyed. Several other schools were damaged. More than 450 businesses were directly impacted by the storm, including one of our largest, St. Johns Medical Center, as well as many small businesses. These companies collectively employ about 4,500 people. Hundreds of other firms have, or will have, long-term economic impact from the storm. That’s the bad news.

On the good side, the storm’s path was about 15% of the geography of Joplin. It missed the downtown, where public safety services are based. Consequently, the city was able to quickly mount rescue efforts. We have a number of communities that surround us, and they immediately sent aid. Hundreds of volunteers flooded the area to help. This quick action saved scores of lives.

The University was untouched and became the staging area for the thousands of volunteers from many communities who rushed to our aid. Most of the retailers were not damaged and able to function for groceries, clothing and building materials. In the days following the tornado, my team had personal contact, sometimes standing in the rubble and sometimes on the phone, with nearly 400 of the firms wrecked by the storm (almost 200 of them Chamber members, nearly 20% of our total). All but two indicated they would rebuild. That is a great statement of faith in our future. The two large “big box” stores that were hit, Wal-Mart and Home Depot are already clearing the sites. St. Johns will also rebuild.

We are thankful for the great outpouring of volunteerism, of food, water and so much else. I can say the attitude here is actually quite positive and our citizens are upbeat and ready to rebuild as fast as possible.

I know, Mick, that many Chambers and businesses around the country want to know how they can help. We appreciate that. To help our business recovery efforts, we have our Business Recovery Fund on our website: There’s a “donate” button at the top of the page and a link to on the right side of the page where people affected by the tornado can state their needs, and those willing to contribute money, resources or volunteer time can do so. On that page are recovery funds for the schools, for social service agencies and for residents.

Again, thank you and all of our Chamber friends and colleagues for your thoughts and prayers. Best to you all.


Rob O'Brian, CEcD
Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce
320 E. 4th Street
Joplin, MO 64801
417.624.4150 (o)
417.438.0100 (m)
417.624.4303 (f)
U.S. Chamber of Commerce 5-Star Accreditation

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How States are Building the Nation’s Transportation Systems Report

Chaaron Pearson on Monday, June 6, 2011 at 1:00:30 pm 

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Center for Excellence in Project Finance at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have partnered to produce a review of transportation governance and finance for all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico.  Read the full report here.

This report focuses on transportation finance and the roles and relationships among the branches of state government that are most active in transportation issues.  The report also offers a rich diversity of approaches to govern, finance and ultimate deliver America’s transportation systems. 

The report is also available on the websites of NCSL and the AASHTO Center for Excellence in Project Finance and is free for members of the media.

Tags: Infrastructure, Transportation

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Interview with Miles Burdine, President and CEO and Nicole Austin, Director of Workforce Development and Government Relations at the Kingsport Area (TN) Chamber of Commerce

Chaaron Pearson on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 1:01:28 pm 

Kingsport, Tennessee just won the Harvard Innovations in American Government Award for their efforts in education.  Miles Burdine, President and CEO and Nicole Austin, Director of Workforce Development and Government Relations at the Kingsport Area (TN) Chamber of Commerce share the chamber’s workforce development and education initiatives in a virtual interview.

1. Can you give us some background on how the community began to focus on education? 

In the late 1990s, Kingsport’s strong manufacturing base was in decline.  Willamette Paper Mill (now Domtar), located in downtown, announced it would cut 150 jobs.  JPS Industries announced cuts of 100 jobs at its now defunct Borden Mill plant.  Eastman Chemical Company, then Tennessee’s largest employer, announced three possible scenarios: downsize significantly, move corporate headquarters and/or close local operations.  The decision was the first layoff (1,200) in the company’s nearly 100-year history.  With the local housing market stagnant and retail expansion non-existent, more than a few residents set their sights on other communities where opportunities seemed better. One city leader said, “The last one to leave — turn the lights out.”  A city leadership staff member explained, “It was a hard time to be optimistic about Kingsport’s future and no reason to change until significant outside threats questioned our ability to survive.”  Our City decided it was time for change.  We had to reinvent ourselves if we were going to survive.  In 1999, a city-led "Economic Summit" developed solutions through community-wide participation: training and workforce development, promotion of the entrepreneurial spirit and diversification of the economic base.  A common element realized was education.    

2. Was the chamber involved from the beginning? 

Yes, the Chamber has been involved from the very beginning!  The Mayor of Kingsport at that time brought the Chamber and business leaders in our community together for an “Economic Summit”.  Some time later, Dr. Locke who was then president of Northeast State Community College tasked the Chamber with putting together a meeting with business leaders to find out in his words “what do I need to teach that will help you hire my graduates”.  Since then the Chamber has been involved in all levels of this project.  From advocating for the Educate and Grow program to working on the Academic Village the Chamber has had an active role in making this change in our community. 

3. I’ve heard about Kingsport’s education initiatives and read your award nomination for the Harvard Innovations in American Government Award (which Kingsport won), but for those readers hearing about this for the first time, can you give an overview of Kingsport’s education and workforce development strategy?

Several strategies and plans developed out the mayors 1999 Economic Summit.  We began our work with a city-led effort called "Educate and Grow," which offered scholarships to Northeast State Technical Community College (NESTCC) for any city high school graduate meeting entrance requirements.  The Sullivan County Commission soon expanded the program county-wide.

Kingsport is a mid-sized city lacking a college campus.  We then focused on developing an academic village for convenient workforce development opportunities.  The Academic Village consists of four buildings focusing on a different area of specialty with a 5th building currently in the planning stages.  The buildings are located in the heart of our downtown adjacent to childcare and a public transit system.  The first building constructed was the Regional Center for Applied Technology (RCAT) combined under one roof in the downtown area.  The original five-year goal for students was 1,000 which was surpassed in two years.   RCAT was a $1.1 million dollar investment.

The next building constructed was the Regional Center for Health Professions (RCHP).  The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved funding a $4 M, 42,000 square-foot Regional Center for Health Professions (RCHP) adjacent to RCAT.  Wellmont Health System, a major healthcare provider (Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky), provided $1M in scholarship money.  King College (private) provides associate degrees to nearly 400 students in areas of nursing and five medical technology lines such as cardiovascular and ophthalmological technology, rivaled by only a handful of schools across the country.

 The third building in this village is the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM).   RCAM is a venture from two Kingsport-based companies, Eastman and Domtar.  A $2.7 M, 26,000 square foot - Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) was constructed to focus on vocational based education (i.e. welding, pipe-fitting, etc.).

In fall of 2009, Kingsport opened the Kingsport Center for Higher Education (KCHE)

A fourth building in the downtown ‘village,’ a $13 M city-funded, 54,000 square foot Kingsport Higher Education Center (KHEC) open in fall of 2009.  Baccalaureate and higher degrees from at least five public and private universities, with all necessary instructional and student support services, are offered. 

KCHE is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Green Building Rating System) certified Higher Education Facility in the State of Tennessee.  Currently at Silver level.   NeSCC – 894 students

King College – 135 Students

Lincoln Memorial University – 98 Students

Carson Newman – Will begin at a later date

University of Tennessee – 50 on-line students

Plans are underway for the next building in our Academic Village which will be the Pal Barger School of Automotive Technology – AKA “R-PAL”.

Local businessman Pal Barger made a $400,000 donation for the purchase of a facility in the academic village.  This facility will house NeSCC automotive services program.  This new facility, when complete, will encompass all aspect of auto body training – estimating, building and reconstruction, repair and painting. 

Beyond the Academic Village

In October 2009, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Alderman approved to fund GED testing scholarships to cover GED examinations. 

According to the Sullivan County/ Kingsport GED program – of the 153,000 people living in Sullivan County, approximately 27,500 do not have a high school diploma (18 percent).  Just over 27 percent of these people are living at or below the national poverty level and 95 percent of them remain in Sullivan County for longer than one year.

Harvard Award

In September 2009, The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University announced that Kingsport, Tennessee was a 2009 Innovations in American Government Award winner. 

Over 700 nominations – Kingsport was one of three top winners. 


“Instead of traditional tax incentives, Kingsport has revitalized its economy by making its workforce more competitive,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School. “They recognized that today’s high school diploma does not adequately prepare students for the challenges of the global economy. Cities across the country can learn from Kingsport’s work in revamping curricula, building new infrastructure, and developing creative partnerships.”

4. How successful was the initiative when it first began?  Did you achieve your planned goals?

Since Kingsport first began making changes to better ourselves and increase the academic attainment level or our city, we have met our goals and made a positive change in our community.  Below are some statistics and measures on how we are measuring our success. 

Statistics indicate, since the inception of the Higher Education Initiative there has been an increase in educational attainment of the Kingsport population 25 years and over. 

These indicators include:

  • A 20.8 percent decrease in those with less than a 9th grade education
  • A 13.9 percent decrease in those 9th to 12th grade with no diploma
  • A 23.0 percent increase in the High School Graduate (includes equivalence)
  • A 27.5 percent increase in those with an Associate Degree
  • A 19.2 percent increase in those with a Bachelor’s Degree

With the community focusing on higher education as an economic development priority, Northeast State Technical Community College realized a 248 percent increase from 2000-2007, in the number of students graduating in the spring of each year from high school in Sullivan County who enrolled at NESTCC during the fall semester of the same years. 

Since the opening of the Regional Center for Applied Technology in the fall of 2002, the Higher Education enrollment in the downtown campuses has risen to 1,208 students.  This includes the Regional Center for Health Professions with the opening enrollment in the fall of 2008 at 351. 

These numbers show success in pushing the importance of educational attainment for a diversified economy.  During the higher education initiative years, NESTCC main campus has seen enrollment grow, evidencing that the numbers of students did not just migrate to the downtown area of Kingsport, but rather the numbers of those seeking higher education has risen in the region.   

Kingsport realized that having an increase in its young adult population was critical to economic development.  Over a seven year period during the initiative, the number of college age city residents (age 20-24) increased 26 percent. 

The downtown area of Kingsport, where the city invested in the higher education facilities, experienced a $20.2 M positive change in appraised property values.  This growth represents taxable property only.  Non-taxable development like the higher education facilities and major church renovations are not included. 

Since the late 1990s, Kingsport experienced a loss of 10,500 manufacturing jobs.  Leaders recognized a major key to reinventing Kingsport was having a more diversified economy.  Evidence of diversification is shown through the additions of 5,400 health care jobs, 2,800 leisure/ hospitality jobs, 1,300 natural resources/mining/construction jobs, 600 financial jobs, 500 information jobs.  In 2000, there were 17,638 city residents employed.  In 2007, 19,159 city residents were employed.  During that same period of time the median family income rose nearly 20 percent to $48,351.     

5. Where did the funding for the initiative come from? 

The funding for these buildings came from public private partnerships.  Some were City funded and others came from grants money and investments from local businesses.  That information is listed for each building in the question above. 

6. Do you have any advice or recommendations for other chambers working on education reform?

Develop a workable strategy and involve your community.  It is a necessity if you want community buy in and participation.  When we began working on the academic Village the Chamber did a survey assessment of our businesses to see how much interest and need there was for an Academic Village.  The results were clear, this is exactly what our community wanted and needed and today the evidence of that can be seen in our downtown. 

Your City leaders need to have buy in.  Remember all of this began when our City took the first step and financially supported Education and Grow to raise the academic bar.  Actually the process began even before that when our then mayor took the very first step and organized an Economic Summit at which we recognized our problems and set out to fix them. 

Go visit other communities.  We made many trips to South Carolina to call on others who had built similar facilities and had made a positive impact in their communities.  Of course our door is always open in Kingsport!   Since winning the Harvard Award for Innovations in Government we have hosted many groups in our city.  We will organize and host a one day session with the leaders who were instrumental in the process and explain how this all came to be.  To schedule a visit contact Nicole Austin at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce 423-392-8835.

 7. Anything else you’d like to share with the group?

Help yourself.  Kingsport did this on our own.  We didn’t go to the state looking for a handout or for someone to fix our problems.  We did it ourselves.  It’s your community.  If you invest in yourselves others will follow. 


Tags: education, Workforce Development

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