05/09/10 — Chamber board approves new direction

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Chamber board approves new direction

By Laura Collins
Published in News on May 9, 2010 1:50 AM

The Wayne County Cham-ber of Commerce's board of directors approved some major changes Friday to how the organization operates in the wake of financial concerns that resulted in the layoffs of two employees.

The board, on its third try, approved the chamber's new five-year Operating Plan. The plan focuses on six initiatives: financial stability, resource for business, value to membership, awareness of what the chamber does, staff organization and structure and communication.

"I'm happy it was approved," board chairwoman Julie Daniels said. "The process of the plan allowed us to get feedback from the community, from the board and from volunteers to help us move the chamber in a positive direction."

The plan, which took more than a year to put together, comes a month after the chamber laid off its membership services staff.

"One of the main motivators (in developing the plan) was the financial situation that the chamber was in," Mrs. Daniels said. "This didn't happen overnight, being in a place where we needed to reduce staff."

Making the decision to work toward being more financially stable led the board to the other five initiatives in the plan that the chamber will work on.

"It's a guide for us as a staff and as a board to accomplish those six initiatives," executive director Steve Hicks said. "We're using the plan to hold everyone accountable and find a way we can all come together, enhance the economy and the quality of life for the business community."


The goal of the financial stability initiative is to increase revenue from membership investments and other financial resources so funding is available to operate the chamber and its programs.

To judge the progress of the goal, the plan has benchmarks including maintaining a positive cash flow by December 2010, eliminate the debt on the line of credit by December 2011, build reserve funding to $50,000 by 2015 and implementing a program funding campaign by December 2010 to generate a million dollars over a five-year period.

To reach the goals set by the initiative, the chamber will develop and implement plans to increase membership. Membership fees pay for about 90 percent of the chamber's $480,000 operating budget, with about 10 percent coming from the city and county. To bring in new members, the chamber plans on having a membership event every two years conducted by volunteers, membership staff, executive director staff, operations staff and Your Chamber Connection, an organization the chamber contracts with to help with drives.

Hicks will redirect his efforts to membership.

"He was very involved in travel and tourism and government affairs," Mrs. Daniels said. "He wasn't under-utilized, however, where his concentration needs to lie is membership."

They also plan on having ongoing membership recruitment by implementing a member to member recruitment campaign.

As part of the initiative, department heads will review existing programs and events to make sure they are benefiting the chamber and its members. Current programs include Business After Hours, community forums, educational lunches and events through Wayne Education Network, among others.

Two annual events have already been eliminated from the chamber's schedule -- the Business Expo and the Military Procurement Card Show.

"We're not going to do the Business Expo this year. One, because we don't have the staffing available to make it happen. And the attendance and participation has decreased in the past years," Mrs. Daniels said.

The chamber will have a new business trade show for new members and volunteers who participated in the membership drive. It will be free to the new members, unlike the Business Expo, and will be held in June.


The goal for the plan's second initiative is to be recognized as the primary source for business development in the county. To gauge the chamber's progress, the initiative wants to increase the number of business inquiries from 100 to 500.

"We're working on getting the name of Wanye County out there and how we can represent Goldsboro and Wayne County to get more people to open a business here," Mrs. Daniels said.

As part of that goal, the chamber hopes to work with golf courses and hotels to bring more people to the area. They also plan to begin a "buy local" campaign in June.

"That's something we very aggressively worked on back in the fall and had numerous task force meetings. We found the mindset of the membership is that they were more interested in large government entities buying local," Mrs. Daniels said. "We're looking to support our members and getting people interested in buying here. They all discussed how we can get the city, county and hospital buying from us."

The initiative also calls for new staff hired as early as September. Unlike the staff members who were recently laid off, the new staff would work on commission.

"A lot of chambers are doing commission-based salespeople which is a much smaller cost (to the chamber)," Daniels said. "If they're not bringing in new members, we're not paying them."

To start, board members plan on adding only one salesperson.


The goal of the plan's third initiative is to validate to members they are getting value through "the many tangible and intangible benefits."

Businesses who joined the chamber during the 2008 Membership Event had only a 27 percent retention rate.

"I'm not happy about that," Mrs. Daniels said, but added that typically those types of drives have low retention rates. But she still wants to see it higher. "My mindset is a little bit different because we're in a small town. If we got members in and we show them the benefit of the chamber and what we're doing for them, they should want to stay. I feel like that's one area we need to work on."

She added that the chamber provides events and activities, information, resources and networking opportunities to members.

"One of the things we want to work on in the future is maybe not adding more stuff, but making our members aware of all that we are already involved in."


The goal of the fourth initiative is to ensure the chamber is viewed as the proactive force in the community that drives the economy and prosperity of local businesses. The chamber hopes to increase the awareness by 15 percent, which will be gauged through surveys and polls of the general public.

Much of this initiative calls for the help of volunteers, which both Mrs. Daniels and Hicks said should come from board members and chamber members.

"We're trying to run as streamlined as we possibly can, and we're trying to get more of our members involved in this process," Hicks said. "If they're here just for what they can get out of it and not what they can give to it, then they're not getting the full benefit."

At a time when businesses themselves are streamlining and cutting staff, Mrs. Daniels said volunteering won't be extremely time-consuming.

"We're hoping that we can get more individual participation, which would require less time of everyone participating. We're trying to be respectful of people's time," she said. "If you're not involved you're not going to see the value of membership and aware of all that we're doing."



The goal of the fifth initiative is to be more efficient while increasing the chamber's commitment to its members. The board hopes to increase the number of volunteers from 300 to 500 and for the staff to attend two development trainings each year.


The goal of the final initiative is to improve communication between the members and the community. The plan calls for staff and board members to connect with chamber members to determine the most efficient means of communication for each member.