Economic Development News
Forecasting economic growth part of Chamber's mission
Published: Monday, December 11, 2017
By: Janet Weckenborg, 2017 Chamber Chair
Sometimes things are not what they appear to be. For instance, the calendar page has turned to December, but it doesn’t feel like winter. I spent a lot of time outdoors over the weekend and needed a light jacket at most. My friend, George even suggested we take a sail boat out on Binder Lake. Crazy to have that option at the end of November! With daytime temps in the 50-60 degree mark and low 30s at night, it feels like an extended fall season. But, we all know that winter weather is coming and as such we prepare.
At the Chamber we try to be watchful and forecast needs and issues that our business community will be addressing in the future. We’ve talked about some of those in this publication before: river port, cyber security development and training, analysis of retail service needs and opportunities, workforce, etc. You may wonder how a topic is moved to the front of our focus and when do we as an organization take action? There are three primary reasons we start to focus on a topic and I would like to take this space to talk about those three:
First, the Chamber’s mission is to “promote economic vitality and strength in the Jefferson City area and be a leading public policy advocate for business people: to provide valuable services to our members; and, fully participate and partner in activities that improve the economy and quality of life”. When an issue arises and we are asked to help on a project it needs to fit within these boundaries. We work with the city, county and or a local business group on almost every project we address. Respecting our own and the boundaries of other entities is being a good partner. Encouraging participation in the discussion is good sense.
Second, the Chamber has a contract to provide economic development services for the city and county. It is a model that has worked well for this area. The ability to have full time staff devoted to responding to industry inquiries about our region and potential location here is invaluable. As you have heard before, when a company contacts us, they already know quite a lot about the area due to accessibility of statistics on the intranet. Additionally chamber staff devoted to economic development call on our members regularly to learn what is working and not working for them. After a number of visits, we pick up on trends and commonalities of concerns. The staff also work on outreach opportunities with national firms that are looking at locations on behalf of a company (sort of like a business broker). Insight into their selection process is ongoing and when we see that our area was not selected for a site visit or a second look, we try to identify the why and see if it is something we can address.
The third reason a topic moves to the front may be what we are learning from other our own members or other Chamber organizations across the country. Our chamber staff interacts with other Chamber organizations within this state and with regional groups. We look for best practice ideas on how to address membership issues, communication opportunities, small business support, to name a few. An example of insight from our members came this summer from the retail survey we conducted. Three things we learned: 68% of retailers feel additional retail growth would be positive for their business, 92% of those surveyed have a social media presence but 50% do not offer online shopping. What does that tell us? How does this compare to other markets? Is there a need for education or assistance to move into the online offering venue? Are there steps to take that assist the local retailers in their competition with online retailers? Such is the dialogue we have and it becomes an ongoing journey, it spans a few months or even the better part of a year. Typically a hint of a topic is followed by another voice(s) from our chamber members or city and county partners and we want to que our activities to meet the need. Perhaps there is no need for the Chamber to become involved (does not fit our mission, is not related to economic development and is not impacting our chamber members to the extent we need to be involved) and if so we step aside. A chamber needs to facilitate not interrupt business development.
So you may wonder, how do we know we are meeting the mission? We look at economic/ business statistics: unemployment, new business licenses, layoffs, median income, new housing starts and real estate transactions, etc. We also look at our total membership, participation in our educational and networking events, and feedback from our partners. We think it’s our job to watch those figures, keep our ear to the ground and our eye on forecasted changes. It’s kind of like looking for winter on a December day that is warm enough to go sailing on Binder Lake. The conditions, the people and the wind speed of change are all part of the picture.
This is my last message as the Chair of the JC Camber Board of Directors. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with the current Board of Directors and with the Executive Committee (Bill Plank, Darren Heckman, Dan Westhues, Brandy Bryant, Jason Otke and Chip Webb). May the end of 2017 and all of 2018 bring you good fortune, good times, good health and if you sail-fair winds.