Is your chamber’s annual meeting this much fun?
A performance by Tony Orlando, cheerleaders, prize giveaways, a bacon mascot, trapeze artists, and a chamber president singing “You Belong To Me”: this was the Greater Lehigh Valley (PA) Chamber’s recent annual meeting and awards luncheon held earlier this month. The chamber team led by President/CEO Tony Iannelli bills the event as “the most infotaining event of the year.” It always sells out with more than 1,000 members attending.
Recognized as “not your typical annual meeting,” the chamber event is definitely fun. According to an article in The Morning Call, Tony Iannelli’s “entrance was a little more subdued than last year's, when he landed on the stage in a spacesuit to the sounds of the classic David Bowie tune ‘Space Oddity.’”
Watch highlights from this year’s annual meeting: https://vimeo.com/144896476. If you think it’s pretty awesome, the chamber’s COO & EVP of Member Relations Frank Facchiano says, “Wait till you see the gala!”
At a time when some chambers are partnering with neighboring chambers or entering regional alliances, the Anchor Bay (MI) Chamber of Commerce went against the tide when it decided to break a four-year partnership with the Sterling Heights (MI) Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Oct. 2014 break up was a mutual decision between the two chambers after former president Lisa Edwards resigned.
Now, what was old is new again for the Anchor Bay Chamber, as it returns to its original roots and relaunches itself to serve its local communities. After spending the past year rebuilding itself as an individual organization, the chamber is looking forward to 2016 being, as it told local newspaper, The Voice, "a break-out year." The chamber’s existing membership base is energized for the organization’s future, despite the tasks on its to-do list, which include creating a new board and developing a new website. It was evident at the chamber’s annual meeting last month. In an interview following the meeting, local business owner and chamber member Mark Miller said, “The meeting was awesome. It was positive, and those in attendance would like to see a very successful local chamber grow again.” Learn more about the Anchor Bay Chamber’s story and the spirit that is driving its exciting rebirth: http://www.voicenews.com/articles/2015/11/07/news/doc563a3d962c55c673809370.txt?viewmode=fullstory
ABC’s of Running for Office
November is the month for politics and Michigan’s Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce is cultivating future elected leaders by hosting a Candidate Information Workshop.
For a nominal fee, anyone interested in seeking public office – from school board to state level positions – can get a crash course on campaign rules, marketing, fundraising, and more. In an article promoting the event, Wes Eklund, chair of the chamber’s government affairs committee, commented on how, through public office, community members can be drivers for prosperity in their own backyards: "Participation in the political arena from all citizens in the community is essential for dynamic and innovative growth and development." Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2015/11/muskegon_lakeshore_chamber_of_7.html
Two Birds, One Stone
Last week, the Charleston Metro Chamber was able to check two major programmatic boxes with one trip. On their way to Richmond for an annual ICV, they added a D.C. leg to the trip. After a direct arrival into Reagan National Airport, thanks to the recent addition of JetBlue service to the Charleston Airport, the delegation headed for the Capitol Visitor’s Center for lunch.
Chamber members met with staffers from their key legislators and spent time with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a crowd favorite. Each guest spent time addressing some of the chamber’s highest priority issues: Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, the deepening of the Charleston harbor and passage of a new federal highway authorization bill. The legislators’ familiarity with the chamber’s key focus areas was a testament to the chamber’s advocacy efforts.
Senator Scott expressed gratitude to the chamber, saying, “Thank you for what you do to help make our community amazing.” When asked what the delegation could do to continue their support of the region, Scott advised local businesses to help create the future today, stressing the importance of being on the cutting edge of high tech advancements and also to focus on middle-skill jobs.
After lunch, a charter bus transported the group south to Virginia’s capitol. In a partnership with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the Charleston Metro Chamber produced a Regional Economic Scorecard which compares Charleston’s data from 2005-2013 against six similar cities and two “leading economies”, with Richmond among the comparative. Selecting Richmond as the destination for their 4th Annual Metro Leadership Visit allowed the chamber’s attendees to make practical comparisons and see how programs, practices and initiatives could be realistically translated back to their own community.
The first stop in Richmond took attendees to Rocketts Landing, a new mixed-use neighborhood on the James River. Richard Souter, one of the developers of the project, was the first to address the group. Attendees learned how the project has become a catalyst for other riverside development, such as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route and the new Stone Brewery plant and bistro. Richmond’s Economic Development Authority COO, Jane Ferrara, also talked the group through the bid process for the Stone project – one for which Charleston was also in competition.
The next two days included tours and presentations on a host of other topics such as urban living, BRT, Virginia’s Biotechnology Park, creativity and entrepreneurism. Although the range of topics was diverse, the common theme was growth and development. Several attendees alluded to a growing divide in Charleston between those that want to see the city grow, and those that want to preserve its historic charm. The chamber supports “responsible growth”, so it is no wonder they are looking to Richmond and other historic cities to see how leaders there are successfully getting things done with public support.
The diversity of topics also served as a recruitment tool for the trip. The roughly 30 delegates represented an array of industries such as banking, technology, architecture and development, educational institutions, hospitality and others. One attendee remarked that the diverse networking opportunities was a big motivator in attending the visit. She also appreciated getting to know peers in this type of environment, because it affords an opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
Also of benefit to attendees is the value of meeting with and learning from thought leaders in other flourishing destinations. One attendee, a professor at the College of Charleston, voiced his appreciation for educational opportunities such as the leadership visit. “Every time I come to a chamber event, I come away with something new. It is the only conduit to ‘all of this’”, he said as he gestured around him.
Upstate N.Y.’s New Advocate for Regional Business
The memberships of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber and the Chamber of Schenectady County have voted to integrate into one umbrella organization: the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce. According to an article in Albany Business Review, the move forms "the largest chamber in the Albany, New York region" that will serve regional business interests and provide broad-based member services. Both chambers will exist as affiliate members of the Capital Region Chamber. They will operate with their own identities and boards, and continue to present locally-focused programs and provide issue advocacy at the local level.
Slam-Dunk Honor in Akron
Earlier this month, the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce enjoyed some celebrity sizzle during its annual meeting banquet when it honored Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James. James, a four-time NBA MVP, attended the event to accept the H. Peter Burg Leadership Award, recognizing his leadership and philanthropic efforts in Akron. The award annually honors a community member who exemplifies community service.
A Map That Was Worth 1,000 Words
Chambers of commerce affect history in strange ways.
Harry Gold watched nervously as FBI agents ransacked his Philadelphia apartment. They had been tipped off by a spy for the Soviets, British citizen Klaus Fuchs, that someone had been a courier between Fuchs and others in an atomic spy ring. Fuchs couldn’t name the person, but the FBI managed to infer from Fuchs and other evidence that the individual might be Gold.
It was May 22, 1950. The Soviets had detonated an atomic bomb nine months earlier, which President Truman had announced to the nation. The resulting hysteria, fanned by Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, was gripping the country. The idea that one of the most murderous regimes in history, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, now had a weapon of mass destruction, was too much to bear. Yes, without spies the Soviets sooner or later would have devised their own bomb, but for them to have it years ahead of schedule represented an obvious danger for America and her allies. (Indeed, as some pointed out later in the year, the Soviets’ having the atomic bomb may have been what emboldened Kim Il Sung of North Korea to invade South Korea in June 1950, setting off a war that would cost 35,000 U.S. lives.)
Who had leaked our secrets to Moscow? Harry Gold, an unassuming, pudgy chemist, considered kind and likeable by those who knew him, was not a likely suspect. Moreover, when the federal agents asked him if he had been to the Manhattan Project laboratories in Los Alamos, N. M., he said no, he hadn’t even been west of the Mississippi.
The G-men, Scotty Miller and Richard Brennan, continued their search. Miller reached behind a bookcase and found a brochure. It included a detailed map of Santa Fe, N.M. It was published by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.
“I thought you said you’d never been out West,” Miller said to Gold. Taken aback, Gold opened his mouth, sat down and said, “I am the man to whom Fuchs gave the information.”[i]
The evidence against Gold was not conclusive. He might have escaped arrest if he had kept his mouth shut.[ii] But somehow that map, and perhaps his own feelings of guilt or his desire to be helpful, undermined his instinct for self-preservation. He opened up to the agents. Two days later, Fuchs, shown a photo of Gold, confirmed that he was the man Fuchs had worked with. Gold would go on to help the FBI on dozens of investigations, many of which he suggested. The atomic spy ring case was about to be blown wide open.
Gold fingered David Greenglass, a former Army officer assigned to Los Alamos in 1944 and 1945. Greenglass, in turn, implicated his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, and eventually Rosenberg’s wife (and David Greenglass’s sister) Ethel, too. Greenglass had bargained to save his wife from prosecution.[iii]
The results were soon delivered by the courts. Gold received a 30-year sentence and served 14 years of it; Greenglass got a 15-year sentence and served 9 ½ years of it; and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison on June 19, 1953.
Thus did a simple chamber of commerce map play a role in the greatest spy drama in American history. In events of not only national, but sometimes of world importance, chambers of commerce stubbornly, often in unexpected and even unintended ways, kept at their business. In the atomic age, when communities could be blown off the face of the earth, towns’ and cities’ chambers of commerce still would remain, one way or another, on the map.
[i] Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Schactman, The FBI-KGB War: A Special Agent’s Story (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1995; previous edition, 1986), 151. Lamphere was the agent dealing with Klaus Fuchs in London while his colleagues were handling Gold in Philadelphia.
[ii] Gold’s biographer has written that the spy from Philadelphia could have escaped arrest if he had not confessed. See: Allen Hornblum, “Convicted Spy Harry Gold was Philadelphia’s Benedict Arnold,” Web posting on Philly.com, November 3, 2010. Hornblum’s biography was: The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010 ).
[iii] Among the many sources describing the spy ring and its unraveling is this version from the FBI: “The Atom Spy Case,” from “Famous Cases and Criminals,” Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/the-atom-spy-case
Coolest Chamber in the Country?
Without a doubt, my favorite museum in D.C. is the National Portrait Gallery. I love the presidential portraits and the folk art exhibit, and the atrium is awesome when it’s stifling hot or freezing cold outside. But what I love most are the rotating exhibits.
Last year they hosted American Cool, a portrait collection of the 100 Americans who define “cool.” Muhammad Ali? Check. Marlon Brando? Check. Madonna? Elvis? Prince? Check, check, check.
But, surprise of surprises, not one chamber exec! I couldn’t even find a chamber board member. No chamber folks on the Alt-100 list (runners up group) either. How was this oversight possible?
Okay, so maybe chamber execs would be out of place among the top 100 (top 1,000?) coolest Americans of all time. But I know plenty of chambers working hard to shake off the stodgy image and channel their inner cool. The most successful right now could be the IndyChamber. Why?
They have their own house band.
The nine-member R&B ensemble called Chamber Music (clever) features five members of the chamber staff and three chamber staff relatives. Chamber CEO Michael Huber holds it down on keyboards. And Chamber Music is not a one-time, staff party gimmick. This group has gigs! They recently rocked the annual fundraiser for the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.
Should your chamber be in the running for coolest chamber in country? Leave a comment and tell me why.
Making the case: “Don’t support the chamber . . . unless”
Last month, Mike Elswick, publisher at the Terrell Tribune in Texas, didn’t mince words when he made the case for joining his town’s local chamber . . . or not. His opinion piece, published with the provocative headline, “Don't support your chamber of commerce .... unless,” makes numerous arguments for why businesses in Terrell, Texas, should join their local chamber. His points can be applied to any chamber’s membership recruitment efforts, but the way he presents his case makes this op-ed a must-read.
On the Road with The Magicians of Main Street
Recently, ACCE's Senior Vice President Chris Mead has had the honor of visiting member chambers to share the stories and history of chambers of commerce presented in his book, The Magicians of Main Street. Last Thursday, he was the featured speaker at the Walton Area, Fl., Chamber's annual gala and 90th anniversary event. Today, he travels to his hometown of Chapel Hill to be the keynote speaker at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber's annual meeting.
"Chambers of commerce in the United States have such a rich history on their own, but few know about their integral part of American history," said Mead. "I really enjoy seeing the audiences' reactions of surprise and sometimes delight. These stories can be a motivator for chamber staff and volunteers to think big."
Look for Mead's presentation in your area or the next chamber execs meeting. In February he is slated to speak at Ohio Chamber execs (CCEO), Commerce Lexington, and One Southern Indiana. He will also present this spring at Mid-America Chamber Executives' Annual Conference in South Dakota, MAKO Chamber Conference in Missouri, and the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals' Spring Conference.