National chamber representatives visit Albany

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce hosted two national chamber representatives at the Albany Welcome Center Wednesday as part of an all-day speaking engagement aimed at educating some of their counterparts in the Southeastern United States.

In a nutshell, the idea was to allow regional chamber officials to exchange ideas on how to do business.

"We are here to share opportunities with each other, focus on trends and how to help each other," said Chamber President/CEO Catherine Glover. "We have to capitalize on ideas other chambers bring.

"The business community pays our salary. If we can't be a knowledge base, we are not doing our jobs."

Mick Fleming is the president and CEO of American Chamber of Commerce Executives, a position that allows him to serve 1,500 chambers of commerce and related organizations.

His spoke on "Trends and Patterns in the Chamber World."

Fleming's first point centered on a chamber's role in the community. "You get to sit in this place between the community, government agencies and businesses," he said.

Some of the challenges facing chambers today include budgeting, corporate-civic models, polarization, turning business needs into chamber stability and making a community attractive.

In terms of membership retention, there have been streaks of activity in recent years, while renewals have eroded, Fleming said. Even so, circumstances can vary depending on the community.

"We've got places where there is no connection between what's going on with the economy and chamber membership," Fleming said. "There may not be much logic behind it."

There is often a big difference between involvement and investment among chamber members, Fleming explained. "A lot of people want to get something done through the chamber, and some want to get something done by the chamber," he said.

Customers, members and community investors are the three types of people you will find connected to the chamber through a membership, said Fleming. "All these folks care about different things," he said. "The people that pay you the most care the least about what you have in the can."

In terms of economic development, it has been shown that site selectors are leaning more toward smaller cities these days. "Some (site selectors) think: we've got expansion of high-speed Internet, so we can do businesses anywhere," Fleming said.

There is also more of an appeal now for facilities that are environmentally friendly. "If someone wants to build a green building, they can get money from just about anybody," Fleming said.

Fleming also encourages chamber representatives to utilize their area media outlets. "There are so many (options) to choose from," he said. "Everything is splintered in the media market. Our role is to be the filter and select what people really need to see."

Results from a recent study presented by Fleming on Wednesday indicated that 59 percent of people think a chamber membership is a good way to show people what a company is about. For small businesses, it was found that consumers were 63 percent more likely to buy goods and services from a firm with a chamber membership.

Moore Hallmark is the Southeast regional director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He represents eight states in this capacity.

His lecture to officials Wednesday revolved around how a chamber can get involved in governmental affairs. "This is becoming increasingly important," Hallmark said in his presentation. "Policy positions completely affect your memberships.

"Every level of policy making affects your memberships."

One of the points he argued was that elected officials need to hear from the chamber representatives within their constituencies. Hallmark also addressed the myth that chambers are not political.

"People are partisan, issues are not," he said. "You don't have to make it personal, it just has to be issue-oriented."

There is the possibility of a chamber losing a few members as a result of them speaking out, but getting involved in the issues will make things better in the long-run, explained Hallmark.

"You might lose a member or two, but you will gain more members," he said. "You can encourage members to get more engaged."

Based on Hallmark's presentation, the four steps to building a successful program by a governmental affairs standpoint it to identify the issues, spread the word, mobilize the appropriate parties and follow-up on the issue.

Roughly 30 chamber officials from Southwest Georgia, northeastern Florida and southeastern Alabama were present Wednesday. Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce President Monica Simmons and Glover served as coordinators for the event.

"We were asked to hold a meeting to update other chambers and get them involved," Simmons said. "Like most everything done these days, the state wants this to be a regional effort. When a major issue comes up and we can rally with us working together, it makes a statement about Southwest Georgia.

"If we are working together we can get more attention to this area of the state."