I attended an incredible breakout session at a recent ACCE Annual Meeting on how to message your chamber and economic development program of work, moderated by chamber executives who are recognized as leaders in the field.
1. They stated that the chamber is the voice of business and visionary for the community at large:
- Communication and marketing are key. You can never communicate enough. Many chambers are doing both and it is important that all staff should know what the other side of the house is doing (chamber - events, etc, economic development - jobs).
- You need to work with your city manager to make sure all are on the same page. Stay ahead of the issues as they pop up.
- Your chamber’s workforce efforts are economic development for the community.
- Think about your external vs internal communications.
- Translate economic development work into the chamber sales team.
- Start up company vs local bakery - it’s all about Commerce.
- Economic development is new dollars to the community. Chamber is advocacy for those small businesses already in the community.
- The theme is not to separate the two - build a community! Don’t call out individual events or programs of work.
2. What are some the trends in the debate of bringing the two together as a new entity:
- Grow and sustain the local economy is the new message.
- Whether you’re at a chamber event or economic development meeting you talk about what the other group is doing.
- Meet the projects? Coming out party for the new deals to hit the community and talk about how you landed the deal (workforce, road built, etc.). The workforce piece is the chamber deal.
- Black box - confidentiality in economic development is a real issue.
3. Using metrics to tell your story:
- Run economic models for the new company to see if the company should get any incentive money based on what they are bringing to the community.
- These metrics can tell your story on how it will impact the local community (sales at the local stores, taxes, real estate community, etc.)
4. Money and where does it come from:
- Public and private funding. No consistency on what chambers/economic groups are doing.
- Straight contract with the city. As a general rule if you’re doing both get 2/3 from private and 1/3 or less from the city. You don’t want to be beholden to the city government.
5. Once you land a company how do you get them involved in the chamber?
- Hopefully they will support both organizations. It’s sensitive! You need to be careful on the quid pro quo issue.
- Get them involved in your programming and not necessarily a chamber member.
- Chamber relational not transactional which is the economic development group.
- Chamber can throw an event where that new company does not want to do that.
Final comments made were you always should think regional - not just inside your city limits. They talked about a number of resources to help you tell you story: Inplan, RIMS, etc. sites that can run your modeling scenarios about your communities.
At the end of the day, our job is to grow and sustain the community we live in - communication and collaboration is key.
And their final comment, never burn a bridge!