The New Chamber: A Model of Success

By Michael Dalby
From the May 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

Last year, the Columbus Chamber unveiled a new model of collaboration, vision and action, which emphasized its commitment to strengthening existing businesses.

As the largest business service organization and voice of business in the Columbus region, it fuels business growth, retention and expansion. It advocates for a strong business environment. And it delivers resources and information that enable members to be more successful.

Throughout the last 12 to 18 months, the chamber team has worked diligently to transform this nearly 130-year-old organization. The team is learning what works well under the new business model, and what needs to be adjusted. It constantly seeks to improve. So whether a member is a small, medium or large organization, the chamber can provide the right connections, resources and solutions using a one-on-one, consultative approach.

That means each day, hundreds of contacts are made. Members are asked to think of the chamber as a “business concierge,” and encouraged to call on the chamber. The chamber staff is an extension of its members’ teams, with the goal of advocating for them and helping to save businesses time and money.

How does this all happen? Some specific examples of these contacts and connections include:

Market Research

Many businesses require specific demographic or market research to empower their sales efforts. The chamber has a top-notch research team that can help. For example, one member requested a list of middle market companies in Ohio with $10 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. The chamber’s research team provided that list, complete with names of C-level executives. What would have been a difficult task for the member was delivered quickly and efficiently, allowing the business to move forward with its marketing efforts.

Another member wanted help building a list of local business and community leaders for a grand opening event. The chamber compiled a VIP invitation list for them.

And when it comes to this service, size does not matter. It is interesting to note that both very small and very large businesses take advantage of the chamber’s research services.

Government Navigation

Government is an important partner in making the Columbus region a competitive place to do business. That’s why advocacy on behalf of businesses is a core focus of the Columbus Chamber.

The chamber works with city, county, state and federal policymakers on behalf of business. Frequently, that involves advocacy on broad-based issues. For example, this winter and spring, the chamber has advocated for municipal tax uniformity as part of the Municipal Tax Reform Coalition. In addition, the government relations team has monitored Gov. John Kasich’s tax reform plan and issued a survey to gain insight from members to share with the Ohio General Assembly.

In other instances, the government relations team works directly with specific businesses. One member hit some roadblocks while attempting to upgrade the power supply to its building due to a delay in process between the government and the supplier. The chamber facilitated communication between all parties and helped get the business back online.

Another business wanted to secure sign placement off a highway exit to attract additional business, but was unsure how to do it. The chamber provided the contact information for the state’s Ohio Logo Signing Program, as well as steps on how to proceed through the process—saving the business time and frustration.

Customized Introductions & Information

Sometimes an introduction is all a business needs. It is safe to say that the chamber is well-connected.

A Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) member was interested in partnering with another business to gain access to opportunities. The chamber connected her to a Woman-owned Business Enterprise member, who had been looking to connect with MBEs to broaden her ability to pursue larger contracts. 

Executives at a major construction company sought to connect one of their MBE subcontractors to additional financial resources. The chamber met with them and helped provide information on how to access capital.

And recently, a new member asked for assistance in being matched with a mentor. The chamber matched him up with a successful small business attorney who had not only launched her own firm, but also started an entrepreneur group.

The bottom line? The Columbus Chamber is business’s partner. A business concierge. An extension of a business’s team.

Put it to work for your business.

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