Indy goes global
Indianapolis, with its burgeoning life sciences, technology and manufacturing sectors, has transformed itself into a bona fide global city. To capitalize on its rising status, the Indy Chamber and its community partners spearheaded Accelerate Indy, the metro area’s first comprehensive strategic plan in more than 20 years.
“Accelerate Indy is a strategy for the next 10 years on how to move this region forward,” said Maureen Krauss, chief economic development officer at the Indy Chamber. “It was a truly inclusive process between mayors, economic developers, private business and the philanthropic community—which really says a lot about how things are done here.”
A major leg of the plan calls for fostering talent among startups and entrepreneurs. Accelerate Indy addresses this through the Business Ownership Initiative, which contains the largest chamber-run microloan program in the U.S., and offers business coaching with a curriculum that includes topics like building a business plan and managing financials.
The plan also aims to expand and diversify international trade in the nine-county metropolitan area. This led the chamber and its partners to develop the Metro Indianapolis Global Trade & Investment Strategy, which aims to expand global trade by leveraging the region’s life sciences ecosystem and investing in its transportation infrastructure.
“Indiana is already the number one export-dependent state in the U.S., but the bulk of that trade is concentrated in just a handful of large corporations,” said Krauss. “This plan will help our companies realize the benefits of a diverse customer base, while exploring new markets and technology partnerships.”
To embrace its newfound global status, the Indy Chamber has helped the city send ambassadors to countries like Poland, Hungary and Cuba. It is also trying to get local companies focused on global opportunities through Global Indy, a program that serves as a resource center for businesses looking to advance their international operations.
“By encouraging international decision makers to come here and have dialogue, we’re strengthening our base and helping our economy grow,” said Krauss. “It’s made a big difference building awareness that we have strong assets in our region that are valuable around the world.”
Accelerate Indy helps the region’s largest players, or its “anchors,” expand through the Anchor Revitalization Initiative, which boosts these companies by strengthening supply chain relationships and further developing their talent pipelines.
“It used to be the case that economic development strategies would be focused solely on getting companies to move from other regions,” said Krauss. “We know how many jobs are created by our businesses here in Indy, so we’re trying to figure out how we can help them continue to grow and expand.”
The chamber has used surveying, focus groups and research from local and national consulting firms to formulate a communications strategy that complements the economic development components of Accelerate Indy. The goal, says Krauss, is to better tell the story of the Indianapolis business community.
“Any time we want to tell our story, we want it to be authentic,” she said. “Doing this really deep dive into the components of our story is ultimately going to boost business and talent attraction in Indy.”
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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.