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Chamber Executive Article Archive

The Irrelevant Question Faced by Essential Organizations

By Tom Baldrige, CCE

Fall 2014

Thanks for your support of ACCE and for the confidence you’ve placed in me to be your new chairman. It is due to the respect I have for all the front-line, chamber champions out there that I am truly honored. Together, with the support of the talented ACCE staff, a dedicated board and our bold new strategic plan, there is much to be done. Please help us move the ball.

In framing the year ahead, I reflect on ACCE’s Centennial Convention in Cincinnati and its content, energy and networking, all of which left me uber-optimistic about the role chambers play in their communities, regions and states. Adding to my excitement is the book The Magicians of Main Street, by ACCE’s Chris Mead, which details the historic impact chambers have had since before the founding of our nation. You can’t help but feel pride in our profession when you sense the enthusiasm from your peers and hear the stories of chambers making a difference.

Amazingly, despite the well-documented historical and current impact of entities like yours and mine, I still sense angst within chamber staffs and boards, as well as from outside critics, related to the so called “relevance” of chambers. It’s difficult enough to tackle ongoing challenges without also having to address perception and self-perceptions about the “chamber of commerce” as a viable institution for today.

Those who have worked with me, not to mention family and friends, know that I bristle at these doubts and insecurities, whether from inside or outside the profession. Respectfully, I ask that we stop thinking about our future in terms of relevance. Instead, I invite you all to use angst as inspiration to shape your envisioned future. Or, as ACCE President Mick Fleming said at a recent board meeting, “Build your real value and strive to become essential. Your relevance will take care of itself.”

Among the many centuries-proven lessons in Chris Mead’s book is this: If you shut your chamber’s doors tomorrow, it won’t be long before two local businesses start talking about working collectively to make a positive difference in your community, or improve their bottom lines. Others would join them to work for collective impact.

Heck, for many of you, rival chamber-like organizations arise without you closing your doors! The inspiration for business people to work together through a business-led, civiceconomic entity is timeless. That is as essential today as it was when ACCE was founded in 1914, but relevance is a fair topic to raise in communities where chambers resist change. The economy, society and policy environment are changing radically and quickly. We must stay ahead of, not be dragged along by, these changes.

One of the great things about being in the chamber business is that there is no chamber czar controlling a formal federation telling us what to do. It’s up to us, working with fiercely independent boards, unique economies and funky histories, to figure out what to.

Independent? Yes. Alone? No. ACCE is here to help us with the journey. Though I’ve tapped many of ACCE’s services, I certainly don’t know everything that’s available from the newly renamed Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, but every single time I ask for help from ACCE, on virtually any topic, I get it. Usually, the answers I get from ACCE come from the collective wisdom derived from all of you. When we share, benchmark and drive each other we will ensure the “essentialness” (and, yes, the relevance) of the chamber of commerce movement for another 200 years.

Thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me this year to learn and serve.

 

Tom Baldrige, CCE President and CEO Lancaster (Pa.) Chamber of Commerce & Industry ACCE Board Chairman, 2014-15

 

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