For those of you who are fully energized, motivated beyond belief and not even a LITTLE burned out from time to time, go ahead and close out this post and go about your day. But if you want to know what it is about the Chamber industry that gets ME up in the morning…what motivates ME to spend 120 nights a year in a hotel room and travel tens of thousands of miles from city to city and from state to state…buckle up!
Ask the average business-owner in your town what the Chamber of Commerce does, and I suspect you’ll get the same answer just about everywhere you go. I would be willing to bet the responses sound something like these:
“They do all the networking events and ribbon cuttings for the city, don’t they? Must be nice to have one of those high-paying government jobs!”
“They help promote tourism and run the Visitor’s Center down on Main Street. Nice folks.”
“We have a Chamber of Commerce?”
Well, I can tell you that between speaking last week at the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals conference in Malvern to working with the Beaufort (SC) Regional Chamber this week, I’ve gotten really fired up about what it is we do in our communities. In fact, this isn’t likely to go over very well, but I have to say it…if people in your Chambers’ service area are saying any version of the above, SHAME ON US! It’s our fault. You’ve heard me say over and over again that Chambers and Associations are notoriously bad at telling our stories, and those sorts of comments are proof that it’s still a challenge for us. It’s not their fault that they don’t know about the jobs we bring to the table, the houses and schools and hospitals and businesses we build, the impact we have…it’s OUR fault.
Chambers around this country and around the world are doing some INCREDIBLE things for their communities, and for far too long we’ve sat idly by and allowed people to think that those things “just happened”. Well I’m here to tell you it has to stop! And it goes deeper than those misconceptions I mentioned earlier. Even when we DO “toot our own horns”, we don’t do it effectively. We tell people that we brought X number of jobs to town, we helped create a workforce development initiative and we awarded a business for their ongoing contributions, but the vast majority of our constituents don’t know what that MEANS.
Starting today, I want to see YOUR CHAMBER take the lead on this. I want you to start explaining to me what you do and how it affects me. I want you to EDUCATE me!!! I want you to break down those economic impact numbers into data that I can understand in my world. Don’t tell me that you’re fighting to ensure that the military base in town isn’t a victim of a Base Realignment and Closure action, explain to me that even though I don’t do business directly with the military, my customers do…and if the base suffers, my customer suffers, leading to less disposable income to spend with ME! Tell me that you’re not going to let that happen on YOUR watch, tell me that the Chamber of Commerce is FIGHTING for me and for my business! Don’t tell me that you want to push the City Council to approve a multi-family housing family project. Instead, educate me on the fact that all those young workers we’ve got working here are taking their salaries to a neighboring town or county and spending their money elsewhere because, while unemployment may not be an issue locally, we don’t have enough affordable housing to keep them here…and that means more being spent at home! Don’t whisper to me about closing the skills gap. Scream from the highest hill in town about what you’re doing at the School Board meeting next week or the work you’re doing with the Community College to ensure my business can find the right people we need next week and next month and next year.
I know this sounds aggressive, and it IS aggressive. But I think we NEED a little aggressive right now so that our prospects and our members alike can understand that we are a CAUSE. We’re helping to grow our community, but we’re also helping to grow their businesses. We’re helping to educate their current and future workforce. We’re making our town a more attractive place for businesses and for people to work, live and play. We’re feeding children, aren’t we? Every positive impact puts more money in more pockets, affording EVERYONE a better lifestyle. How DARE we keep that to ourselves? Read Chris Mead’s book, The Magicians of Main Street and learn about the impact Chambers have had on our American way of life, then see if you can’t find correlations in your own community. Let’s not wait another 300 years and hope someone will write the history book for us again.
I’ll be watching your newsletters and social media posts. I hope you’ll join me in turning up the volume and educating everyone who will listen about what YOUR organization is doing for them every day, whether they’re a member of your organization or not.