What is a Chamber of Commerce?
Column by Terri Hayes
I am pleased and honored to be asked to write a column for Community Media of Colorado describing our business environment from my perspective as executive director of the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce. I thought it would be fitting to start at the beginning; what is a chamber of commerce and what services can it provide for you?
As taken straight from our mission statement, we consider ourselves "an advocate for business, helping members succeed and prosper through networking, Internet exposure, advertising opportunities, education and referrals." But what does that really mean?
El Paso County is a social county, with most preferring to make personal connections with those they do business with, or at the very least, asking for recommendations from those in the know. If you just opened up a new business and was looking to make those connections, where would you go? To the chamber of commerce, of course. Look at us as an avenue to your success. We provide the structure, arrange the venues and invite the local businesses to come meet each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Most chambers have regular gatherings. We have Business After Hours the third Tuesday of every month, which are in a different business each time; a quarterly new member luncheon; a couple of annual breakfasts; and a host of other events. The great thing about the events is they are diversified in their topics and goals. Annually, we host a kids' fishing derby, a family health fair, the Front Range Business Expo, casino night, Fourth of July street fair, a Bowl-a-Thon, the golf classic and a recycle Day. Whew, that is quite a list and we are looking to add even more next year.
You will notice that some are strictly business orientated, some are community orientated, and some a mix of both. What better way to get to know your fellow business owners and patrons of the community than sitting side by side helping each other's kids catch a fish or competing for the lowest golf score? The advice I give to chamber members who are either new to business or those who are looking to grow their business is take a look at your target market. What are they doing and where are they going? Looking for families? Have a booth at the street fair. Looking for other business owners as your clients? Go to the business expo. A great mix of both is our after hours events. Select those avenues that will get you the most exposure in your market.
What the chamber is not for is just being a name on a list. Having said that, we do have many businesses that belong strictly to help support us and their community because they feel strongly in the cause and that it is the right thing to do. For you other businesses, it takes getting out and getting involved. Think of it like a gym. Belonging is not enough to get in shape, you have to actually go. Don't be afraid, take the next step and contact your local chamber of commerce to see how it can help you.
Another aspect of the chamber is more politically driven. Many do not realize we get involved in local issues, dealing with state, county, and community leaders on those subjects that either do or could have an impact on our businesses and their growth and also on our quality of life in the region. At the Tri-Lakes Chamber, our board of directors decided to not take sides in matters along party lines or specific candidates. Instead we stick to issues that are being put to a vote in our region, and the support is based on how they affect the entire business community. Do not be surprised though to see other chambers endorse a candidate as that is within our rights as chambers and our designation as 501(c)6 organizations.
We also work closely with our local Economic Development Corporation to attract businesses to the area and help grow and revitalize the area. Attracting more jobs and residents is the key to helping all of our local businesses. We work very closely with the other local non-profits to ensure services that are needed are hopefully being supplied.
Lastly, here at the Tri-Lakes Chamber we are a visitor's center. Every year, hundreds of individuals either passing through or moving to the area come to us for advice as to where to go and what to do. It is a great pleasure to be able to direct them to the many attractions available all up and down the Front Range.
Well, I hope that was a good brief overview of what a chamber is and what services it provides. If you have any questions on how we might benefit you and/or your business specifically, feel free to give us a call or stop on by.