Other Voices

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Supporting new chamber idea

In response to “Let’s hear Chamber ideas,” the editorial in the Dec. 6 Business Journal:

My experience of being the director of membership sales and selling memberships for organizations has been some of my most enjoyable work.

The chamber of commerce division of our Regional Business Alliance (RBA) is floundering with little identity and its membership business system is not working well. I have asked several Colorado Springs business owners if they are members or not. When they answered no, I asked, “Why not?” and their answers ranged from “I see no value” to “Too many promises broken” and others. When they answered yes, I asked, “What benefit do you like best?” Their answers: “Not sure … I pay the dues because it’s good for promoting our local economy,” etc. In the last three years the chamber has had membership losses of 5-7 percent each year. I estimated that the average membership cost is $550/year x 1,550 members (present membership total) = $852,500 so the average yearly loss is $50,000.

Membership organizations represent regional areas and have a unique responsibility to their cities such as:

1. The business community looks to its chamber of commerce/economic development group for direction in attracting new business to its region;

2. Provide stimuli and building blocks to companies already established and tie economic entities together for branding a unified message;

3. Decisions (or indecision) made 5-10 years ago affect the region’s economy and general outlook of the business community today;

4. Small businesses will “break the back” of the organization if promises made to them are repeatedly broken. Other membership organizations fill the vacuum quickly.

5. There are approximately 17,000 businesses in El Paso County and the RBA now has fewer than 10 percent of them as members.

Typically I look at things with an optimist lens first and lean towards a realist lens second. It’s hard to be an optimist for our chamber of commerce now … so I’ll be the realist. Without righting the ship and restoring the confidence of small business owners — the chamber of commerce is headed for a train wreck with greater membership percentage losses. The hard part of this is that businesses, whether they are members of not, and residents alike will suffer those effects.

A few months ago I interviewed to sell memberships for the chamber division of RBA. After the phone interview and person-to-person panel interview I was told 10 days later that they were re-evaluating the position. I have not heard from them since then. After my panel interview I composed a PowerPoint presentation showing some points of a Business System for Membership Sales. A few years ago I authored, “Choosing & Joining a Non-Profit Business Organization,” in response to a chamber of commerce frustrated with its membership losses and other challenges. When there is interest I will present one or both.

We can restructure the present RBA or start another organization. I am interested in evaluating both solutions. Let’s rebuild our chamber of commerce into a dynamic and robust organization that serves our Colorado Springs community!

— Charles H. Castle

Leigh’s response to editorial

Having been branded as the guy with too many good ideas, that the CSBJ chose to poke fun of this one tells me it has traction. My idea (a new chamber including all small business) has merit and I’m pursuing it, currently working on the business plan.

There are around 10,000 small businesses not being served (they have no voice) in Colorado Springs. Consider if (even 1/3 of) that potential market was bound together with a one loud voice demanding to be heard and respected. Then, consider that voice’s ability to move policy. As it is now, small business has NO voice in local government or other policy conversation. Small business has no advocate on Council. Nada. Zero. No advocate.

It’s likely my idea will catch fire and if not with me, with someone else. At its high-water mark, the former chamber had only 1,500 members. That’s a troubling, revealing statistic on its face. That’s a thunderous roar from the marketplace of the obvious, “you’re too costly — you offer no value for the investment.”

My idea is to deliver value at such a low cost (for example, $15 per month or $99 per year) that maximum participation is achieved. Imagine showing up at Council with 3,000 to 5,000 small business partners at your back to discuss any serious policy conversation. Imagine the headlines:

• Small business says ‘City for Champions’ is good;

• Small business says ‘stormwater tax’ is a bad idea;

• Small business demands transparency and accountability from CSU and says “no” to the rate increase!

I have had several folks encourage me and already offer to be charter members, many unsolicited who merely heard the idea from the grapevine.

With leadership, organization and implementation, this is possible. And for small business, joining an active, vibrant advocacy organization is how they will become reenergized to help move the city forward and it’s how they will, by default, build community. If you’d like to discuss this idea or would like to become a charter member, call or email me (337-9551, tim@timleigh.com).

— Tim Leigh