2nd Quarter 2018 - What Does the Chamber Do?
Bill Plank, 2018 Chamber Chair
Common questions I hear are “What does the Chamber do?”, “What has the Chamber done lately?”, “Why doesn’t the Chamber do something about X?”, or “Why should I join the Chamber?” These are all great questions and I am thrilled when folks ask them as it provides an opportunity to communicate our value.
The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce serves a deeper role in the community than many other chambers. Many chambers focus solely on membership – members pay dues and in return the Chamber puts on programs, networking events, and supports those businesses. Our Chamber does all of that but we are also contracted with the City of Jefferson and Cole County to provide economic development services. The most important aspect to remember is that the chamber is a network of nearly 1,800 members and many other business leaders, economic development stakeholders, and people interested in making our local economy stronger.
In the member services world, the chamber is the premier conduit for individuals and businesses to connect. These connections are made possible through formalized trainings such as Tuesday Topics, Social Media Forums, Leadership Jefferson City, Friday Coffees, and more. Personally, my greatest value has been through the connections and learning that happens at Chamber events. The two largest events are the Chamber BBQ and Golf Tournament but there is tremendous value in attending the smaller events as well. Every month, a local restaurant will partner with another business to host a Chamber Connections happy hour event. Additionally, there is a Business and Lifestyles Expo to help our members showcase their businesses and a Small Business of the Year and Exceptional Employee Awards lunch every year to thank the hard-working people that make Jefferson City so great.
The best example of a mix of member services and economic development exists in the Chamber’s Young Professionals organization. A few years back, leadership identified a need to welcome and cultivate the younger professionals in our area. Young Professionals is over 220 members strong and a tremendous benefit to our community and area employers. The momentum of this group continues to amaze me and I would encourage “seasoned” Chamber members to get involved through their “Let’s Do Lunch” program.
Economic development is a topic that continues evolving and becoming more rounded. Traditional economic development consisted of purchasing land for industrial use, ensuring proper utilities and infrastructure exist to facilitate companies doing business, and utilizing incentives to attract businesses to a community. It is important to remember this is a slow process as there is a need for land inventory acquisition and development and then the private companies must have a need to make significant investments before looking to expand or relocate. Once these companies land, they tend to stay for a long time, produce many jobs and payroll that supports the entire community. While certainly not a complete list, Morris Packaging, Axium Plastics, Scholastic, Modern-Litho, Alpla, and Command Web are all examples of companies that have recently located or expanded with help from the Chamber.
Beyond the physical assets these companies need to be successful, the Chamber continues making strides in workforce development. Employers across every sector need employees that are ready to work. The Chamber continues to pursue workforce initiatives such as a Job Board (which at the time of writing had 29 job openings ranging from Waitress/Waiter to Vice President), obtaining the Certified Work Ready Communities Designation, and inviting local school counselors into our employers to show them what careers are available locally to their students.
Perhaps the most common question I get from friends and family is, “When is Jefferson City getting BRAND X?” The Chamber has traditionally only been involved in largescale economic development while local realtors and developers handled the attraction and placement of retail establishments. As the world of economic development has evolved, the Chamber has reevaluated our role in economic development to include a focus on providing retail opportunities for the area and providing more support to current retail members. It has been increasingly recognized that having good local Retail provides an ingredient of “Quality of Place” that attracts people to your community. This process is ongoing so I cannot definitively say what the Chamber’s role will be in that process. Generally, I foresee the Chamber helping local developers and realtors positively affect the retail landscape while providing support services to current retailers. There are about 30 volunteers with various perspectives working on committees to enhance retail offerings in Jefferson City. Personally, I am excited to see what comes from this process!
So, what does the Chamber do? Chamber members, economic development stakeholders, and staff support economic growth and individual success for our area!