Bob Layo is a friend of mine. For three decades, he served as President/CEO of the Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber until he just couldn’t take it anymore. “My motivation to do the programs and events that we did practically every year was gone,” he told me. “It was time to move on.”
I’ve heard similar comments from colleagues who have only been in the chamber business a few years. Chamber management can be a balancing act between meeting member expectations and convincing non-members of the importance of coming onboard. Both are challenges that bring satisfaction and frustration, hardly ever in equal measure.
Much like the school year, our Chamber moves into high-gear in late August and goes strong until mid-June. July is our catch-up month, a chance to assess where we are in relationship to our budget and our annual goals. It’s a time to breathe. And wherever possible, it’s a time for exploration and discovery. Last month, I was provided the opportunity to explore and discover.
The Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals (PACP) is an organization to which we have belonged since its inception. Each year, PACP awards scholarships to members who apply to attend either the PACP Conference or the annual conference of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). I applied for the ACCE scholarship and was notified in the spring that my application was accepted.
I am guessing that my scholarship from PACP was based less on my status in the chamber community than it was on the fact that the conference was being held in Des Moines. Who could possibly resist Iowa in July? Surprisingly, the conference attracted more than 1,000 people from throughout the country. I suspect that might have been because the chamber industry is undoubtedly in flux. Staying relevant is a standard that many chambers are failing to meet. Consequently, their membership numbers are dropping. It’s difficult to turn the ship in the other direction once the tide has shifted.
With the vast array of educational sessions from which to choose at ACCE, I found myself focused on the three topics that seem to have the greatest sense of urgency for our Chamber – workforce development, membership retention and young professionals. I was hardly alone. In all but two of the sessions I had to stand against the wall, despite arriving early. The seats were all filled.
The workforce development discussions had a common theme: Job availability without the requisite number of qualified candidates to fill those jobs. To the larger cities, that meant accessing greater numbers of training dollars and the hope for a favorable resolution to immigration legislation. To smaller cities, it came down to doing more with less and finding creative ways to entice its young people to embrace careers closer to home.
From the membership retention side, the most beneficial sessions were the best practices ones where chambers readily shared how they were re-inventing themselves so that they no longer looked like chambers of commerce. To no one’s surprise, those discussions bled-over to animated exchanges on how young professionals were the “fly-in-the-ointment” of business prosperity. Thankfully, the two sessions that I attended on engaging young professionals provided solid examples of how several chambers had figured-out ways to recognize and appreciate the many assets that young professionals bring to the table. I’m looking forward to finding more of that common ground with our own young professionals program.
In all, my trip to Des Moines was enriching and even enjoyable. The people in Des Moines are friendly and the city is clean, safe and welcoming. I’m grateful to PACP for providing the spark that has allowed me to re-charge my battery and I look forward to carrying my enthusiasm to our Chamber staff so that they, too, will be invigorated for the task ahead.
We have many things to accomplish during the remainder of 2018. We invite our business community to be an integral part of the process.