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Business Assistance Programming Offered by Chambers of Commerce

In: Business and Management

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Chambers of Commerce:
Their role and areas of opportunity White Paper Study: Summer 2011

Business Assistance Services Offered by Chambers of Commerce
Overview
Addressing Congress on December 7, 1911, President
William Howard Taft expressed the need for a “central organization throughout the country that [would be] able to keep American interests in closer touch with different phases of commercial affairs.”
Over the years, Chambers have been portrayed as the
“voice of business” and as a central, local source of business services, advocacy and information. Chambers are also key coordinators in providing community events and activities.

Scope of Study
This white paper examines the range of business information and economic development services offered by local Chambers of Commerce.
The data for this White Paper comes from a scientific web-based survey of 1,265 Chambers of Commerce nationwide.1 Chambers were randomly selected from those organizations that are active members of the United
States Chamber of Commerce.
The study examined five (5) components:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Organizational Structure
Services Provided
Data & Information
Hospitality, Conventions and Tourism
Professional Association Participation

Key TAKeAWAyS:

• Both perceived and real value is the basis of membership development and retention. Utilizing plant/site visits, coordinating them with local elected officials is a key method of establishing an understanding of the local business mix as well as establishing a basis for membership development and retention. These visits offer opportunity to put a company’s best foot forward as well as being able to observe if there are issues that need resolution or threaten the company’s viability.
• Offering business counseling can be time consuming, but it also creates a bond between the company and the organization. With
82% of reporting Chambers having 2 designated members of staff, business counseling is a clear “value added” benefit to a chamber/ business organization.
• Business assistance should be offered by members of staff that have a working knowledge of community demographics, how businesses operate and understand statutory requirements for operating a business. • Businesses’ consumption and utilization of data reflecting economic conditions, etc., is very high. Chambers should consider maintaining access to such data, as indicated in the preceding pages of this report. It is difficult to have an understanding of issues facing the manufacturing, retail, and service industries without fundamental levels of data that relate to the industry groups. Knowledge improves understanding, and understanding is the basis of relationships (i.e. Membership development and retention).

Photo source: iStockphoto.com

Photo source: iStockphoto.com

1 Utilizing this survey format, unlike samples of probability utilized by mail and telephone surveys, it is not possible to compute a margin of sampling error for web-based surveys that rely on panels of survey respondents. The result of the survey are demographically and geographically representative of Chambers of Commerce within the United States.
©2011 Geneva Analytics, Ltd. All rights reserved. All information herein is from sources deemed reliable; however, no representation or warranty is made to the accuracy thereof. All Photography & design by
Glittermilk Limited, unless otherwise noted.

The Role of Chambers of Commerce & Areas of Opportunity

White Paper Study: Summer 2011

Organizational Structure

Services Provided

Programming
Over two thirds (601) of the Chambers survey reported a division, section, committee or task force specifically assigned to provide business assistance or support services to the member companies and the business community in general. Of the remaining Chambers, 278 had no component of the organization providing business assistance or support, 14 Chambers did not respond at all.

Based on responses, the importance of business services offered by the Chamber indicated a commitment to membership development and retention. While eight percent (8%) responded that such services were not important to membership development and retention, eighty-five percent responded that such services were important to extremely important.

Staff Support
Seventy-one percent (71%) of those Chambers with business assistance programming maintained designated staffing while programming was coordinated by non-paid volunteers in 28% of those surveyed. Two percent (2%) did not respond.
The level of staffing assigned to business services ranged from one (1) designated staff member (62%) to staffing levels of four (4) or more (8%). Overall, eighty-two percent
(82%) of responding Chambers had no more than two (2) full time paid staff assigned to business services.

The results of this question can be bundled into three (3) areas: 1.

Direct contact between Chamber staff and the business community;

2.

Access to technical information about the community, business climate, etc.; and

3.

Services that relate to business retention and expansion. The overall picture shows that, in key areas, there are gaps in the level and availability of business assistance services offered “directly” by Chambers of Commerce.
Not Used/
Limited Use

Somewhat
Used

Used extensively N/A

Business Counseling by Chamber Staff

41%

32%

22%

5%

Business Counseling by Partner Organization

12%

44%

33%

11%

Business Workshops & Seminars

28%

33%

31%

8%

Plant visits

58%

15%

17%

10%

Business expansion Assistance

67%

21%

10%

2%

Business retention

62%

17%

14%

7%

Business recruitment

73%

11%

9%

7%

Commercial Site Inventory

78%

21%

1%

0%

Office Space Inventory

83%

8%

5%

4%

Workforce Data

55%

22%

22%

1%

economic Development Committee

55%

24%

19%

2%

Small Business Council, et al

55%

22%

11%

12%

revolving Loan Fund

73%

0%

0%

27%

Micro Loan Fund

67%

0%

0%

33%

Site Analysis

79%

11%

5%

5%

Pre-Project review

67%

22%

7%

4%

retail GAP Studies/Analysis

37%

33%

11%

19%

Occupancy rate for Commercial & retail Properties

67%

4%

6%

33%

Database Management

67%

11%

22%

0%

Legislative Advocacy on State Issues that Impact Business

11%

44%

44%

1%

PrODUCTS & ServICeS

©2011 Geneva Analytics, Ltd. All rights reserved. All information herein is from sources deemed reliable; however, no representation or warranty is made to the accuracy thereof. All Photography & design by
Glittermilk Limited, unless otherwise noted.

The Role of Chambers of Commerce & Areas of Opportunity

Data & Information
While 64% of the responses rated Chambers of Commerce as a good or excellent source of timely and reliable business information, it should be noted that 20% rated themselves as an “OK Source” and 15% as a “Limited
Source” of business related data and information.

Chamber compensation for the services performed is clearly the short side of this industry/organizational component. Survey respondents reported that only 12% of those Chambers offering services had a positive cash flow, while 88% reported breakeven or net loss.

Survey results demonstrated that in almost all cases, a
Chamber’s strength was in information distribution, not generation. validation and verification of information distributed was not measured by this survey.
In general, economic development information is generated by third parties, distributed via the Chamber and inquiries are forwarded to other agencies. In less than 1% of responses, site, zoning and permitting, etc., information was made available via the Chamber’s web site.

White Paper Study: Summer 2011

Observations & Takeaways
In many communities, the local Chamber is one of three organizations that provide services to the business community. These organizations include:
1.
2.

visitor & Convention Bureaus; and

3.

No responses had indicated that economic development information was distributed via mobile application.

Chambers of Commerce; economic Development Organizations

Survey results clearly illustrated that the level of business assistance services delivered by Chambers of Commerce varied widely.

Hospitality, Conventions & Tourism
Hospitality is a significant component of 88% of the responding chambers. One-third saw themselves having the lead role. On the other hand, 44% played only a supporting role in the industry segment.
Among the functions provided by survey respondents were: • Full Convention Management & Booking Services 5%

The survey results revealed two important factors:
1.

Chambers are clearly a component in the distribution of business assistance information, and

2.

Chambers generate very limited amounts of original business information.

Services by most chambers (82%) are run/delivered by 2 designated members of staff, yet there appears to be a gap between the stated importance of such assistance and its availability. Areas where the gap is most evident are listed below.

• Meeting & Convention coordination & Booking

10%

• Step-On Tour Guides

18%

• Group Charter & Booking Services

14%

• 67% offer no assistance for business expansion

• Chamber Produced Tour Guides & Information

52%

• Distribution of Tourist/visitor Information
Produced By others

• 55% offer only limited advocacy for business issues at the state level.

96%

• 53% of reporting chambers have no plant/site visitation programs

Geneva Analytics, Ltd.
Fred D. Burkhardt, IOM, MBA
4331 Straight Arrow rd | Beavercreek OH 45430 fdburkhardt@genevaanalytics.com 937.597.3156 mobile | 937.429.9476 office www.genevaanalytics.com The author, Fred D. Burkhardt, has been providing business management and economic development services and counseling for more than 35 years. He has a strong professional background in the fields of economic development, business administration and marketing. He is committed to providing a variety of services designed to aid communities with revenue enhancement, job generation and tax base diversification.

©2011 Geneva Analytics, Ltd. All rights reserved. All information herein is from sources deemed reliable; however, no representation or warranty is made to the accuracy thereof. All Photography & design by
Glittermilk Limited, unless otherwise noted.

The Role of Chambers of Commerce & Areas of Opportunity

White Paper Study: Summer 2011

Info
Generated
by Another
Source

Info
Generated
by Chamber

Info
Available
on Line

Info
Available
via Mobile
App

Inquiries
Forwarded
to Another
Agency

Site Information & Contacts

22%

34%

0%

0%

44%

Site Zoning Information & Criteria

44%

0%

0%

0%

56%

Permit Processing Info & Forms

67%

0%

0%

0%

33%

Office Space Facilities & Contacts

56%

22%

23%

0%

22%

Office Space vacancy rates

44%

34%

0%

0%

22%

retail Space Facilities & Contacts

34%

44%

0%

0%

22%

retail Space vacancy rates

44%

33%

0%

0%

23%

Commercial, Industrial Sites Facilities & Contacts

44%

0%

0%

0%

56%

Commercial, Industrial vacancy rates

50%

0%

0%

0%

50%

Office & retail Absorption rates

56%

11%

0%

0%

33%

Commercial, Industrial Absorption rates

62%

0%

0%

0%

38%

Infrastructure Info & Maps

33%

33%

0%

0%

34%

GIS Mapping & Site Information

56%

11%

0%

0%

33%

Transportation Capacity

56%

11%

0%

0%

33%

Capacity for electric, Gas & Water

33%

11%

0%

0%

56%

Internet Access & Capacity

44%

11%

0%

0%

45%

PrODUCTS & ServICeS

• 62% offer no business retention assistance (it is not clear if this includes member retention)
• 41% offer no business counseling of any kind ;
56% offer limited or no counseling by partner organizations (usually SBDC or SCOre counselors on a one time per month basis)
• 28% offer no business workshops or seminars
When linking these factors with the stated role of the
Chamber and membership retention/ development,
Chambers are clearly missing opportunities to capture and hold market share. Business service points that develop retention-based relationships between the Chamber and new members or non-members are not used or have limited use.

The availability of, and access to, businessrelated data also indicates a gap between stated perceptions and delivery capability.
While 64% of Chambers rated themselves as good or excellent sources of timely and reliable information, the survey results indicate that utilizing the data represents another opportunity for Chamber interaction with members and non-members.

Conclusions
In today’s business environment, Chambers of Commerce must carefully navigate the waters between expectations and delivery of business assistance. In many instances, the role that the local chamber plays is dependent upon other organizations in the community. In those scenarios, the partnership between the organizations reduces the Chamber’s significance, enables product/service duplication and limits the efficiency of service delivery.
It is also imperative that Chambers take the initiative in areas where their strengths are an advantage. Such would be the case with distributing business-related information and assistance. These two areas offer opportunity for contact between the Chamber and the business community. Where there is an economic development organization that has an active business retention and expansion program, Chamber staff or senior volunteer(s) should be encouraged to be part of the visitation teams. establishing a relationship, via the site visits, gives the business an opportunity to meet a Chamber representative and the staff member the opportunity to make a follow-up contact. Such contact also puts the
Chamber at the table when addressing business-related issues. ■

©2011 Geneva Analytics, Ltd. All rights reserved. All information herein is from sources deemed reliable; however, no representation or warranty is made to the accuracy thereof. All Photography & design by
Glittermilk Limited, unless otherwise noted.…...

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...MidSouth Chamber of Commerce Case Study #1 MidSouth Chamber of Commerce (MSCC) was created to be an advocate for the business community and, under the leadership of Jack Wallingford became one of the most powerful advocacy organizations in the area. With business membership growing and staff increasing, the computer technology that was in place was no longer able to keep up with the demands of the organization. This study outlines what MSCC went through to procure and implement a new Information Technology System and the issues MSCC encountered during the implementation process. As MSCC was growing, the realization of a more advanced computer system was in dire need. As large as MSCC was, with in the organization, technology was lacking and antiquated. There was no integration with computers and many of the job duties were done manually causing delays in information routing. All IT functions were in turn outsourced by Nolan Vassici. He provided no documentation of his work, rather only provided the basic IT needs of the organization. Later on Simon Kovecki, a Computer Science graduate student, was brought into MSCC to learn and understand the software without any direction or assistance from Vassici, who was no longer in business. With Ed Wilson, the operations division manager, and with the assistance of Kovecki, they started the search for a new computer system. Lassiter, who was not technically in charge of the project, took over the duties to search for firms who......

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Chamber of Commerce

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