Chamber Challenge

Economy forces area chambers
to tighten their belts

Drastic measures lead to
cutting programs, staff, but membership
remains strong, officials say

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

2010 Indiana Edition Cover

2010 Indiana
Edition Cover

(February 2010) – Serving businesses is what many Chambers of Commerce are all about. Intended to be a support system, some chambers have had to scale back in certain areas to continue serving their members without sacrificing quality benefits.
Such measures are being taken across the region and affecting chambers in Oldham and Carroll counties, as well as Prospect, Ky., and nearby Madison, Ind.
“The past year has been a tough year for many of our businesses in the area,” said Deana Epperly Karem, executive director of the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce and interim director for Oldham County Economic Development Authority (OCEDA). Early in 2009, “we had identified that it could be a tough year and that an outreach person would be necessary.”
That person was David Bizianes, whose main responsibility is to work with Oldham County businesses to identify areas of growth and challenge, said Karem. In his role as business outreach manager, he is also responsible for membership sales and economic development projects. The Chamber and OCEDA partnered to hire Bizianes.
“By the time we got David on board, the economy was really starting to suffer, but David got right in there working with businesses,” Karem said. His actions allowed the chamber to react quickly to members’ needs and provide support to them.
“The chamber has withstood the downturn in the economy very well,” said Oldham County Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Robin Lawson. Since Biziane came aboard, “We have actually grown our membership over the past year while most organizations are down 20 percent or so.”
The chamber has had a successful year in recruiting new members, said Karem. “We are constantly working to identify ways to grow membership value.”
One way they have done so is by adding more marketing opportunities and not raising the cost of memberships. A new Membership Outreach Committee was created to aid in retaining current members as well as recruiting new ones.
Existing members are being offered a chance to renew their membership for free. If a member recruits three new members this year, their renewal will be half off. If they continue recruiting and attending events they will receive points and credits, so that when enough are earned, a member may be eligible for a free renewal the following year.
Lawson admits that chamber renewals are down as a percentage due to some members going out of business, or simply choosing not to spend their dollars on the chamber. But many new members have been added, he said, and numbers are up from one year ago in terms of total members.

Madison Area Chamber of Commerce's Annual Dinner

Photo by Don Ward

Officials say 250 people
participated in the Madison Area
Chamber of Commerce’s Annual
Dinner held Jan. 27 at Hanover
College. The crowd was only
slightly down from last
year’s 280 attendees.

The Oldham County Chamber of Commerce has around 415 members, with some being “Top Investors,” said Lawson. This means “they are willing to invest in the efforts of the chamber.” It is their membership dues that help fund the chamber, with a small amount of money coming from Oldham County Government and the City of La Grange.
Karem said the chamber plans to be more engaged with public policy issues in 2010, something she believes is an important aspect of chamber membership.
Even though the chamber has seen a drop in sponsorships and been challenged in collecting some membership dues, this past year was a record year for chamber members to attend programs. “I think this is mainly due to our efforts to keep them fresh, interesting and informative,” Karem said.
The chamber recently played host to its first “After Hours in OC,” a successful networking event. “Having the opportunity to learn about other businesses within the community is part of what the membership dollars are used for,” Lawson said.
The chamber has decided not to hold its annual golf scramble because of low participation, Lawson said. He said the chamber would offset this fundraiser with revenue from other sources.
Across the river in Madison, the nearly 400-member chamber has retained its membership levels although renewals are still coming in, according to David Collier, executive vice president of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We will continue to try and offer as many services as we can,” Collier said. But the Madison Chamber has not been as lucky as the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce.
Collier said the chamber went from four staff members to two staff positions in early January. The two staff members each brought many years experience and knowledge to the table and it was difficult to see them go.
“We couldn’t afford to have the size staff we once had and our resources for funding partners shrank,” said Collier. “This affected our budget and limited our staff.”
Funded now primarily through membership, fundraising events will need to be held to aid in supplementing other activities, he said. “We look to continue to offer different events and programs we have had in the past.”

Deana Epperly Karem

Photo by Don Ward

Oldham Chamber Executive
Director Deana Epperly Karem
addresses the crowd at last
year’s Showcase luncheon.

At the Annual Dinner, held Jan. 27 at Hanover College, Collier announced that the chamber would be moving back downtown to its former location at 301 E. Main St. The move stems from the board’s decision to locate the office in the heart of the downtown business district – and because the regional Small Business Development Center office was moved from Madison to New Albany, Ind. Both shared office space on the Madison hilltop at the Venture Out Business Center. But now with only a two-person staff, the chamber believes it can be more visible in the downtown in a building it already owns.
Another change for 2010 is the chamber’s decision not to hold its annual Bridal Fair in March. Collier said this was not due to economy cutbacks, but rather to scheduling conflicts, because of the chamber’s Tele-Auction fundraising event held one week before the Bridal Fair. They also lack the staff to “pull it off,” he said. He said the chamber plans to resume the Bridal Fair in 2011.
On a positive note, he thinks new businesses see the value in being a member of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce. A new incentive offered to members this year involves a partnership with Hanover Colleges’ Center for Business Preparation.
For four months, Business Strategy students will spend time with a local business owner (and chamber member). These top business students will evaluate, draw up a proposal on how to attain what the business owner wants, and present it to the business owner in April.

Showcase Oldham County

Photo by Don Ward

Oldham County Chamber of
Commerce members take part
in the 2009 Showcase Oldham
County business luncheon
in Buckner, Ky.

“The ‘big’ benefit to chamber membership,” he said, “is the help offered through promoting and bringing together businesses.” Businesses are able to share resources and connect with others to help the business and community grow.
In Carrollton, Ky., the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce continues to serve its membership, despite the economic challenges.
“Fortunately, there have been no cuts in programming, but the economy has forced us to rethink the way we accomplish things,” said Mark Smith, newly installed board president. As an example, he cites last year’s annual chamber banquet where instead of paying a national speaker to come, the chamber focused on local talent by featuring contestants from “Carroll County’s Got Talent,” a talent show of locals.
“In the end, we sold more tickets to the event (we believe because of the local flavor), and were able to reduce expenses of the banquet,” he said. The chamber has put a big focus on a “Buy Local” campaign to help show the value of being a chamber member.
The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce has not had to cut staff like some other chambers. It employs a full-time paid administrative person, Bret Calhoun, who is a shared resource between the chamber and Carroll County Community Development Corp.

Ribbon Cutting

Photo by Don Ward

Madison Area Chamber of Commerce
Executive Vice President David
Collier (far left) helps conduct a
ribbon-cutting ceremony for newly
opened Choice Assisted Living
Christian Home in Hanover, Ind.
Ribbon cuttings are still popular for
area chambers of commerce and
bring visibility to new businesses.

Current paid membership is at 79, said Smith. A 10 percent discount was offered to members who joined or renewed their 2010 membership during last September’s Business Celebration Day.
This year, the chamber is looking to expand its services to include more after hours networking opportunities. “Our members tell us networking is very important to them,” he said.
Like all businesses, the relatively new Prospect Area Chamber of Commerce “has taken a close look at all areas of the organization to make sure we are being good stewards of our members’ monies while at the same time providing them with the needed services to maintain and grow their businesses,” said Kathy Jacobs, membership director.
Jacobs said the chamber’s membership grew by 26 percent in 2009 and is off to a great start in 2010. She attributes it to “our current members who are the best source of recruiting PACC has.”
Through June 30, 2010, the chamber is offering current members a renewal credit of $25 per new business they bring in, up to $100 in credits. The PACC continues to mail out a Community Directory to more than 10,000 homes and businesses at no cost to those receiving it.
The PACC’s Community Expo event, held this year on May 13, is a “wonderful marketing tool,” said Jacobs. “It’s also a great opportunity for community members to see what PACC members have to offer in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.”
Monthly events are well attended, Jacobs said. They will continue having the same events, plus adding a new one. The PACC will be participating in a joint charity fundraising event with the Lyndon Area Business Association to benefit Kosairs Kids in the 2010 Charity Bowl.
The PACC continues to focus on “membership value and how we can help and support our members and community,” said Jacobs. “We will continue to do what we have always done.”

Back to February 2010 Articles.



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