Fact or Fiction? Myths and Realities About the ‘New’ Columbus Chamber

By Michael Dalby
From the July 2012 issue of Columbus CEO

The Columbus Chamber is constantly evolving to better serve members. It is an organization that is more than a century old, but is re-establishing its place within the community—and its purpose.

Over the last several months, the chamber launched new services and tapped into new resources, all with the goal of helping businesses thrive.

Overwhelmingly, those who hear about the services and solutions provided by the “new” Columbus Chamber have been impressed with the direction the organization is taking. But as team members reach out to businesses, they are finding a lot of confusion exists about the chamber’s new role.

To help sort out the myths vs. reality, here is a list of some of the most common misperceptions.

Myth: You’ve got to attend events to get value from a chamber membership.

Reality: The new chamber facilitates one-on-one connections. Yes, the Columbus Chamber still hosts some of the region’s best networking and educational events. But a member does not have to attend events to take advantage of the chamber’s business network. The chamber staff can help make connections to information on and resources for financing, business development, marketing and visibility, government relations and even research. The staff members may not be the experts at everything, but they know where to find them.

Myth: The chamber doesn’t do economic development anymore.

Reality: The chamber is laser-focused on retaining and expanding the Columbus region’s existing businesses. Through the Columbus 2020 regional economic development initiative, this organization’s role has transformed into one of economic gardening—which is based on the fundamental idea that entrepreneurs drive economies. The model, according to the Kauffman Foundation, “seeks to create jobs by supporting existing companies in a community. Economic gardening connects entrepreneurs to resources, encouraging the development of essential infrastructure and providing entrepreneurs with needed information.” And that’s exactly what this new chamber is all about.

Myth: The chamber is just for big businesses.

Reality: The Columbus Chamber is small-business focused—69 percent of its members have 30 employees or less. The chamber provides access to the tools small businesses need to accelerate their growth. The chamber’s Small Business Council plays a key role in ensuring that small businesses have a big voice in the region. And through the chamber’s new Entrepreneur Program, startups are paired with a personal consultant from the chamber team. Other programs and services are geared specifically to the small-business audience.

Myth: The chamber is just for small businesses.

Reality: The chamber thinks big. It is linked to the region’s largest employers, with more than half of the 100 largest employers within its membership. These “transformational members” receive special recognition as part of the chamber’s Leadership Circle. And all big businesses can benefit from chamber services—from advocacy to research.

Myth: The chamber is just for Downtown businesses.

Reality: The Columbus Chamber extends its services and resources to businesses beyond downtown Columbus. Chamber members are based throughout Franklin County, in the neighboring seven counties and beyond. In fact, anyone doing business in the Columbus region can be served by the Columbus Chamber. This organization strives to grow the whole regional economy.

Myth: The chamber is a politically conservative organization.

Reality: The chamber is a bipartisan organization that advocates for a business-friendly environment. Period. The chamber’s government relations team works with city, county, state and federal policymakers on behalf of business and helps businesses navigate governmental issues. Within the chamber’s own government relations staff, a bipartisan effort is represented.

Myth: The chamber can’t help my business.

Reality: The Columbus Chamber team serves as an extension of its members’ workforces. The 20-plus staff members work to help businesses succeed. They are former business owners, managers, frontline staff and experienced business professionals. In addition, the Columbus Chamber is the region’s largest business organization. With 2,000 member businesses, it has connections and can leverage the group purchasing power of 268,000 employees.

At the end of the day, the Columbus Chamber is firmly rooted in Columbus’s history. But it also has an eye on the future and is helping to lead the Columbus region’s 21st century transformation.

Michael Dalby is president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber. He can be reached at (614) 225-6917 or michael_dalby@columbus.org.

Reprinted from the July 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.