Are chambers of commerce still relevant?
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ROCKTON, ILL. Members of the Rockton Chamber were at a crossroads in August when they decided to move on without a paid executive director and a paid staff member.
It’s no secret that many small, communitybased businesses have struggled over the past few years. At the same time, chambers of commerce have faced similar challenges.
Despite that, they remain committed to their communities. But is the business community committed to their chambers of commerce?
For those that market locally, the answer is simple.
“The best part is they keep the community informed about where we’re at. What they offer us is publicity, and their support is very valuable,” says Bonnie Estrada, executive director of the Talcott Free Library, a member of the Rockton Chamber of Commerce.
That support includes the most powerful social networking tool of all, bringing the business community together in a face-to-face environment.
That’s the message that the Rockton Chamber of Commerce wants to promote.
“The challenge has been to rebrand the chamber and prove that we’re still alive, vibrant and a source of information,” said Dennis McCorkle, president of the Rockton Chamber of Commerce Board. “It’s a place where people can gather resources that are valuable to their business.”
Former Executive Director Laura Baker left the chamber in August. The move was a mutual agreement between Baker and the chamber, McCorkle said, and Baker has since taken a position at Rockford Career College.
McCorkle said Baker did a quality job as executive director, launching programs such as the Rockton 2.0 initiative.
“She did a great job, and she had a great following,” McCorkle said. “But we can’t spend time dwelling on the past. We’re in the rebuilding process. We’re going to rebuild and get back out there.”
McCorkle said the purpose of the chamber is to help encourage people to shop at the local businesses.
“We want to work with businesses to bring people into town and help bring people into their door,” McCorkle said. “We want to make sure our businesses are visited when people come into town.”
In nearby Roscoe, membership in the chamber has remained steady as some businesses have folded while others start up or join the chamber.
“We’ve lost a few members, but we’ve gained just as many as we’ve lost,” said Mickey Heinzeroth, executive director for the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce.
“The challenge is that some of the members are smaller businesses, and it’s harder for smaller businesses to stay afloat in this economy,” Heinzeroth said.
Heinzeroth said the chamber has worked to retain members by keeping dues the same during the past four years. The chamber also offers programs such as business after hours events and ribbon cutting ceremonies. Heinzeroth said the programs give members an opportunity to network with each other.
“Attendance for the events hasn’t changed,” Heinzeroth said. “There’s members finding the value in attending the events for the networking opportunities.”
Despite their challenges, McCorkle said the Rockton Chamber currently has about 126 members, which has remained steady during the past few years.
McCorkle said the chamber still plans to host events such as the Wednesday farmers markets and the Christmas Walk. He said the chamber plans to establish more programs in the future, which could be announced during the chamber’s annual luncheon in February.
“We haven’t gotten rid of anything. In fact, we’re adding more events,” McCorkle said. “We’re going to rise up. We’re not going to close. The chamber has to go on, and we’re going to continue.”
The chamber recently launched a monthly lunch and learn series, in which guest speakers talk to the members about various topics such as security for small businesses, coping with the holidays and starting the new year off healthy.
“We’ve received a good response with (the lunch and learn program). We had our first one on Sept. 18, and we had a nice turnout,” McCorkle said. “We have seminars scheduled throughout January.”
The chamber office currently does not have set business hours and is being staffed by interns, volunteers and board members. McCorkle said the chamber is currently looking for more volunteers and board members.
McCorkle said members can still call the chamber office at (815) 624-7625 if they have any concerns or questions. He said any unanswered calls at the office will be transferred to his cell phone.
“When a call comes into the office, my cell phone rings, so no one is forgotten,” McCorkle said. “We want to make sure we’re meeting members’ needs. There is a voice at the end, a person can find a resource to their problem.”