As a professional economic developer, I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of the fence when it comes to participating with local economic development efforts. There certainly is a difference from being a municipal economic developer verses a Chamber executive.
In talking to my Chamber colleagues from around the state, it is interesting how several of them think economic development can be too complicated. I have a difficult time understand the rationale of this statement. Either they have an antiquated definition of economic development, or have been told that Chambers have no place in economic development. Contrary to that belief, a Chambers of Commerce entire focal point center is on business. Sometimes perception is reality when it comes to the work of a Chamber.
Certainly this model doesn’t qualify for all types of Chambers. Regional Chambers such as Detroit Regional Chamber and Shiawassee Regional Chamber tend to operate differently than a small or city-focused Chamber, similar to the one I operate at Troy Chamber of Commerce.
So how can a local Chamber of Commerce have an impact on economic development?
Let’s divide this into a few areas and start with business attraction. As economic developers we know that the private sector business usually has a “wish list” and set of requirements when looking at a particular city or town where they wish to locate. It is natural for them to reach out to the community first to learn more about the area. Whether its questions about the tax base, community structure, even asking the question, is the community business friendly? I have found that some companies are interested in having this conversation with a local Chamber. In many cases, Chambers can be the first line of defense for the community and so providing the key information they need many are essential for them to move forward with their planning process.
The second division could involve talent or the workforce. The business has decided to locate their business and is in the need for local talent if possible. They are providing jobs and some Chambers have access to job banks and in many cases, resumes that might be useful for the business. I can personally tell you that I often get resumes from professionals looking for a change in their career.
Third and final division would be retention. I think this is a Chamber strongest asset. When I worked at a municipality, our mantra was “retention was everyone’s job”. I truly believe that. Any interaction a business will have in your community connected to retention. A Chambers strategy should focus on business retention, entrepreneurism, economic gardening, and marketing.
Authored By: Ara Topouzian, President and Chief Executive Officer, Troy Chamber of Commerce. Ara is a Member at Large of MEDA’s Board of Directors and was Board President in 2014.