As president of a local utility company, I know firsthand that the business climate has changed drastically. That means the needs of businesses are constantly changing, too. At times, one wonders if anything stays the same. When I became personally involved in the Columbus Chamber, it became clear to me-and comforting to know-that the chamber is that constant, the anchor of our business community.

The Columbus Chamber has supported businesses in our community for more than 125 years. Imagine the changes that have occurred in that time. Yet, the chamber has continued to evolve. Today, as chairman of the Columbus Chamber Board of Directors, I see firsthand that the chamber is truly a catalyst that draws businesses together for the betterment of our entire region.

As our region transitions to a new economic development model, the Columbus Chamber's commitment to local businesses is stronger than ever.

The Columbus2020! strategy is designed to take our region to the next level, using the basic elements of economic development: retention and expansion of existing companies; attraction of new companies; creation of new companies; and the enhancement of key underlying issues such as workforce, infrastructure and quality of life.

The chamber is pleased to be an integral part of the Columbus2020! strategy. Our focus will be on serving the existing businesses of our region. While this is not a new concept, it will be enhanced greatly under the chamber's focus.

Foundation of Growth

Our existing business community is the foundation of economic growth for our region. Nationally, economic development leaders acknowledge that up to 80 percent of a community's job and capital investment growth are driven by existing employers.

In addition, these existing businesses are fundamental to our region's efforts to attract new business. According to economic development experts, businesses that locate or expand here will most likely do so because of a positive experience with a local company or CEO, or a personal connection. Unquestionably, every business in our region plays a role in economic development.

That's why the chamber is committed to better understanding the needs of existing businesses and delivering products and services to help them succeed. It strives to stay steps ahead of challenges, to provide solutions to our regional businesses. And it serves its 2,000-plus membership base through cost-savings, marketing opportunities, advocacy, workforce support and much more.

Chamber representatives have learned from businesses for years. In 2009, more than 150 companies completed a Business Retention and Expansion survey. Nearly 119 companies participated in a formal interview. This information is being analyzed and used to help the chamber better understand the immediate needs of our area businesses. Now, the chamber is working to significantly ramp up its existing business strategy. We know it's important to the future of our economy.

Other Opportunities

In addition to this enhanced focus, the Columbus Chamber continues to offer traditional membership services, all designed to support local business. I hope you will consider participating in one or more of these opportunities:

• Internships - Consider hosting a local college or university student this fall to support your workforce and provide him or her with valuable work experience and a connection to Columbus. Post an internship offering at www.columbusinternships.com or call the chamber for support in developing a new internship program.

• Networking - Join us Sept. 23 at the annual Columbus Chamber Clambake. More than 900 professionals attend this evening for fun, food and networking at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

• Share knowledge, be recognized - Participate in discussions of topical issues and recognition of our region's small business leaders at the chamber's Small Business Forum and Leader Awards on Nov. 9.

• Cut costs - Review ways to save on your organization's bottom line through chamber discount programs that include office supplies, health care, workers' compensation, energy costs and more.

• Provide information - Finally, as chamber representatives contact you to discuss your business needs, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity. It's through these meetings that we can discover new ways to serve businesses better.

Just as change happens in the world, it happens internally. You may have heard that the chamber is in a leadership transition as well. I assure you that throughout this transition, the chamber remains strong and focused on the needs of our members and community. Moving forward, as we search for a new president and CEO, I welcome your comments and insight about business needs and chamber value. Let me know how we can help your business grow and prosper in the coming decade.

Jack Partridge is president of Columbia Gas of Ohio Inc. and serves as chairman of the Columbus Chamber Board of Directors. He can be reached at (614) 460-5953 or goahead@columbus.org.

Reprinted from the October 2010 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.