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From the winner's circle: Georgia 2030

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 11:45:00 am 

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce was coming up on its 100th anniversary when it decided to pursue a change of strategy. Prompted by shifting political, demographic and industrial headwinds, the new 15-year strategic plan, dubbed Georgia 2030, was meant to serve as a road map for leaders in business and government to better address new challenges before they become unmanageable.

“Coming into 2016, we were really faced with a state that’s rapidly changing, and we knew we needed to pivot as an organization,” said Kelsey Moore, director of economic development and special projects at the Georgia Chamber. “For much of the state, especially the rural counties, the outlook doesn’t look good, so we set out to empower them to change before some of these predictions become a reality.”

Chamber staff began by pulling data on demographic and economic trends, using subscription software from Chmura Economics & Analytics, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. They found that, by year 2030, Georgia will have an additional 1.9 million residents, and will no longer be majority-white or Republican.

Armed with their findings, a delegation from the chamber embarked on a tour of the state’s 12 regions, which was organized into a series of sessions held at affiliate chambers and open to the public. Attendees engaged with the presenters using interactive live-polling software, which allowed them to fill out surveys in real-time on their smartphones and tablets to provide feedback about key issues in the state. 

“We were selling out and it was usually standing-room only, which honestly came as a shock to us,” said Moore. “For a lot of these communities, no one ever really asked them before what they thought about these issues. They were really appreciative that we weren’t just lecturing them—we were actually listening to their opinions.”

The Georgia Chamber drew upon the survey data and insights gained from the listening tour and synthesized it into a strategic document. The final report found that 76 percent of respondents think the state’s legal environment is too costly for business; 83 percent support advancing dialogue with diverse communities; and 60 percent support expanding Medicaid or implementing a Georgia-specific alternative. Another major finding was that 85 percent of respondents want to see the chamber more actively promote Georgia-made products and services.

“We found that our investors and stakeholders expect the business community to be involved in issues that we weren’t previously involved in, like race, diversity and poverty,” said Moore. “We’ve always been involved in education, but there’s more of an understanding now that if a child doesn’t have enough to eat, he won’t be able to concentrate in class.”

The success of the Georgia 2030 strategic initiative helped the chamber land the coveted Chamber of the Year title at the ACCE convention in Nashville in July.

“It was a wonderful, outside nod to all of the blood, sweat and tears we put in and all of the thousands of miles spent travelling around the state,” said Moore. “Getting that recognition from an international organization really reaffirms the work we’re doing and gives us a boost to keep going.”

Looking ahead, Moore says the chamber plans to use the data and feedback from the listening tour to foster a dialogue with diverse communities about issues like healthcare, education and workforce.

“We received so much great feedback from across Georgia by engaging and conversing with all of our stakeholders and giving them a voice,” said Moore. “We know that if we can show you what the future looks like and start talking about it today, then we have the opportunity to change it. That’s a really positive thing for a lot of our communities.”

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Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards, Chamber of the Year, Georgia Chamber, Georgia2030, Strategic Plan

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From the winner's circle: Stay strong and ChamberON

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 11:25:00 am 

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.”

ChamberON

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.”

What’s next?

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.”  

Want to see your story featured in the #ACCESpotlight? Share it with Ben Goldstein.




Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards

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Growth Matters

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at 4:16:00 pm 

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 1216, and will use the videos to teach them basic principles of economic growth.

“We just really want them to absorb the materials, because there are so many misconceptions and negativity about the private sector, especially in the media,” said Pineau. “We want to make sure students understand that the private sector isn’t the evil cousin out there, that they’re the ones who generate jobs and growth and positive energy in any community.”

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Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards, ACE Awards, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, Communications

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From the winner's circle: Chattanooga 2.0

Ben Goldstein on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 at 1:52:00 pm 

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.”

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Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards, Chamber of the Year, Chattanooga Area Chamber, Chattanoooga 2.0, Education Attainment

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Congratulations, Best in Show winners!

Ben Wills on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 10:13:00 am 

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.

Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce
West Bay, Grand Cayman
Economic Growth Matters Campaign

Kalispell Chamber of Commerce
Kalispell, Montana
Winter CampaignPress Release, Ski Vacation Contest Details, Weekend Sherpa Sponsored Content

Portland Business Alliance
Portland, Oregon
Portland Can Do Better Campaign

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.

Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga: Literally Perfect Campaign

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.)

See photos of Communications Excellence Best in Show winners here and Grand Award winners here.

Tags: #ACCE17, #ACCEAwards, Awards for Communications Excellence, Communications, Marketing

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