Chamber Executive Article Archive

After the Win Sinks In

By Michelle Vegliante

And the winner is… That heart-stopping phrase at ACCE’s Awards Show seems to take forever when you’re a finalist for Chamber of the Year. Hearing your chamber’s name brings cheers and high-fives, camera flashes, and a trophy held high as the CEO makes a speech and the pride of a certified career milestone begins to sink in. But what happens after the champagne toasts are a memory? We asked leaders from the winning chambers of 2015 about the value of being named … Chamber of the Year.

Community Impact

Brad Dean, president & CEO, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce: Winning Chamber of the Year spurred a surge in civic pride throughout our community. Of course, our members are very proud, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the positive reaction from local residents, many of whom are not directly involved in our organization. In fact, this award created opportunities to explain to local residents and businesses exactly what we do.

David Brown, president & CEO, Greater Omaha Chamber: The award has definitely caused folks to take notice. The questions about how we won and what it took have been great door-openers to tell our chamber story to a broader audience. We’ve also been intent from the beginning on noting that this is our community partners’ and members’ award – we accomplished it together. We bought a second award that travels like the Stanley Cup across the community for photos and discussion. It’s helped strengthen our relationships.

Board Engagement

Candace Boothby, CCE, APR, president & CEO, Newnan-Coweta (GA) Chamber of Commerce: The board was excited about our win, just like the community as a whole. The tone of the board’s annual planning session was focused and the expectations were high. There is a sense that the board must ensure that the chamber lives up to the award and that we must continue to improve. John Brewer, CAE, president & CEO, Billings (MT) Chamber of Commerce: This experience, and the entire application process, has opened the door to better understanding by our board of the value of ACCE.

Team Morale

Ed Rodriguez, president & CEO, Coastal Alabama Business Chamber: I’ve seen staff postings on their personal social media pages about how proud they are to work for the “Chamber of the Year.” We’ve noticed an increase in new ideas coming from staff in part because I believe they want to use our award as a springboard to making us an even better organization.

John Brewer: Our staff feels a strong sense of pride knowing that what they do not only competes with work being done across the country, but is among the very best. Staff members who have been with us for years take ownership in the building process and success. Those who have newly joined our team are enthused about being part of a nationally recognized organization and eager to contribute.

David Brown: This award provided fuel for our tanks. The renewed passion and confidence helped when we faced a recent crisis in our community. A large corporate headquarters announced it was leaving, a reduction in the local workforce of 1,000 well-paying jobs. Devastating news to be sure, but I told staff that we are the chamber of the year, let’s step up and prove it. We had the confidence, passion and ability to make a difference in the face of adversity, and we went to work. While I believe we would have done good things no matter what, this award was key to the rally cry and pushed us to accomplish truly remarkable work.

Looking Inward

Brad Dean: The application process is, in itself, a very effective tool for organizational improvement such as developing and delivering on our strategic plan, effective goal-setting, planning and communications. We also became far more aware of the impact our programs and services have on our members and the community at large. Perhaps the most important thing was the areas we can improve upon. ACCE's application process is a self-help tool that forces you to take a hard look at what worked and what can be changed, and that helps to lay the foundation for continuous improvement.

Candace Boothby: Going through the application process was a tremendous affirmation that the systems and processes we strategically developed and implemented are the foundation for our results. Essentially a reminder that what we were doing is working and we are doing the right things well. It also showed that our community is firing on all cylinders with businesses, community, and elected leadership working together to make Coweta special in Georgia and in the entire country.

David Brown: The breadth and depth of our work is pretty remarkable when you lay it all out! Most of our staff and some board members did not realize the caliber of work going on simultaneously across the organization or the specific strategies behind it. The application’s pointed questions and word count restraints forced us to focus on true purposes and outcomes. Reviewing our full response is part of all new employee training. We’ve also begun quick updates in various staff meetings to better communicate what is going on across our many teams.

Unexpected Outcomes

Ed Rodriguez: Since we are a tourism-oriented community, most folks here are accustomed to having our region featured on national and regional “best of” lists for travel destinations. These are always cause for celebration and publicity, but the chamber itself had never appeared on any such listing. So when it was announced that we were a finalist, folks in our community got just as excited as they do for our community’s other accolades. The excitement only escalated when we won the award in Montreal. We learned that our community is just as proud of its chamber as it is of its police officers, lifeguards, beaches, and great fishing!

Candace Boothby: The biggest surprise was the connection between “New Community” and “Old Community.” While the community has assimilated newcomers relatively well, this achievement provided a vehicle for all to speak about the importance of that work. It was very rewarding to see two different generations coming together to celebrate and recognize the achievement. We may have taken another step to blur the line between New Community and Old Community.

Brad Dean: Chamber work is not easy, and we rarely see the full impact of our efforts. Prior to this, I knew the entire community benefitted from our work, but I wasn't certain the community itself knew. The attention this award generated throughout our community has enabled us to better understand the importance of what we do, and it's also broadened our base of support.

Moving Forward

John Brewer: There has never been a better time to build upon the momentum of our success. Our membership, businesses and the entire community has a deeper appreciation for what we do, and thanks to this national recognition, they have a desire to be a stronger part of the team than ever before. Nearly four months after the announcement we still receive congratulatory messages. This is a BIG DEAL!

Brad Dean: Being named ACCE’s Chamber of the Year is a significant testimonial to the community on the chamber's role and impact, and that's a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come.

About Chamber of the Year

ACCE’s annual Chamber of the Year awards recognize excellence in operations, member services, and community leadership. Applicants go through a rigorous, multi-step process including a qualifying round, a written application, and an in-person interview. See the Professional Development section of for details. To learn more about the winning chambers of 2015 and the innovative initiatives highlighted in their applications (including sinking a ship off the Gulf Coast to recharge tourism), visit the Chamber of the Year Samples Gallery at

Michelle Vegliante is ACCE’s community advancement coordinator.

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