Two years ago, the Columbus Chamber embarked on a bold transformation that enabled it to better serve and engage members. No longer “your grandfather’s chamber,” it stepped forward to meet the needs of businesses with a focus on providing connections, resources and solutions to help businesses thrive. The message has been to “Call us,” positioning the Chamber as an extension of its members’ staff.
Throughout the course of last year, the Chamber team was involved in more than1,500 business engagements. Through those interactions, it is clear that the new approach is the right approach. The proof is demonstrated through milestones, big and small.
Sometimes the best connections are one-to-one. For example, a growing first aid supplies wholesaler found its workforce was unable to meet market demand for its products. The owners turned to the Chamber. Across town, a large healthcare and social services provider to veterans and special needs adults was looking to expand its employment services program. The company had dedicated workers, but needed a partner.
Chamber Member Resource Specialist Christy Bertolo brought them together. With additional workforce, the wholesaler has met demand and experienced exponential growth—increasing sales by 80 percent! The healthcare services provider has expanded its programming by serving and hiring more people.
The “new” Chamber is all about connections–connections that lead to accelerating business growth. Bertolo created that connection because of her in-depth knowledge of her member businesses–what they individually need to succeed.
Go-to for Government Relations
Sometimes Chamber work benefits the broader business community. Last year, the government relations team worked tirelessly to advocate for municipal income tax reform—the No. 1 legislative priority for members. The Chamber strongly supported this bill because it fosters economic growth and helps create jobs by allowing small businesses to focus their resources on their business, rather than bureaucracy. The Chamber continues to advocate for this bill in the Senate.
In other situations, members’ government navigation needs are unique. For example, one sought a solution for traffic safety concerns and was not sure where to turn for help. The Chamber provided a direct connection with the Ohio Department of Transportation’s traffic engineer. Another member required guidance on the processes to gain necessary city code changes to launch operations locally. The Chamber brought appropriate parties together, explained the process and assisted in making the case. The result? That business is now up and running.
The Columbus Chamber research team maintains a wide range of research and information. They are experts on local business intelligence. Last year, they fulfilled more than 200 research requests for nearly 150 members, from sole proprietors to the largest corporations—helping them find new customers and markets, know their competition, enhance their supplier base and attract and retain talent.
For example, a document destruction company used research from the Chamber to find law firms, accounting firms, and other major paper users. And a retailer used research to determine neighborhoods to target advertising. The Chamber’s access to major national and regional data bases, combined with our “on-the-ground” knowledge of our economy, gives our members an edge in the competition for customers.
What is next?
The thread that runs through all of these service stories is the Chamber’s unique, close-up knowledge of business – its engagement. By listening, connecting and serving, the Chamber gives Columbus Region businesses a competitive edge.
In 2014 the Columbus Chamber will celebrate 130 years as the hub of this business community. With a nod to its past, it will look to the future. The Chamber will continue to hone its services with the goal of becoming a “top-of-mind,” trusted and responsive business connector, the source for hyper-local business intelligence and the voice of business to government.
Learn more at the Chamber’s 2014 Annual Meeting on Feb. 5. It will be highlighted by a keynote from Jack Hanna. Purchase tickets at Columbus.org/annualmeeting.
Michael Dalby is president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber. He can be reached at (614) 225-6917 or firstname.lastname@example.org