New President Hunter Hall is in the process of reorganizing of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and is hoping to return it to its roots — providing services for its membership.
When Hall came to the chamber, he realized that the existing structure didn’t have a focus."In general, nobody knew the mission statement. There was one, but no one was around when it was created. It was over eight years old. Nobody knew it, so nobody owned it," Hall said. "There was not a rudder for us to be able to take positions on community issues. There was no direction."
A New Vision
Hall said the chamber was struggling to identify how to serve the business and industries, particularly during the economic recession. To help give a new focus to his staff, he recently released a new two-fold mission statement. The first part describes the goals:
"The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce will provide leadership in the areas of: business advancement, economic development and tourism."
Hall said the word leadership is a key.
"We will provide leadership, not just facilitate or foster. We will be the leader in those three areas. This is something to be very intentional about. That’s why we took our position against millage rate," Hall said. "We understand the need to provide services, but we felt it was a hit to the business community and could affect economic development. The chamber could have stayed quite, because we could be worried it would affect funding in the future, but we want to be leaders."
He said tourism is often overlooked, but in his mind, it’s just as important as small business and industry.
"We view it as industry already in our county and it needs to be grown just like SKC or Bard, or anybody else. We want o invest in tourism, because the return is significant. We get the tax dollars with hardly any draw or drain on our services," Hall said.
For instance, the recent tandem bike rally was estimated to have brought $46,000 in revenue to local businesses.
"They didn’t use our schools, they didn’t go to the hospital, nothing. One night at R.L.’s [Off the Square] they spent $800. When’s the last time somebody else did that?" he asked.
The chamber is planning a series of tourism boosting community events this year, which will showcase local restaurants and area historical attractions.
Eyes on the Prize
The second part describes how the chamber will carry out these goals:
"We will provide value to our membership and community through: promotion of Newton County, strategic partners, providing educational opportunities for business, and being an advocate for all business."
Hall said promoting Newton County’s good qualities is important to drawing in new businesses, industries and quality workers.
He said although the chamber will be a leader, it will work to form strong partnerships with the county board of commissioners, various city councils, the Leadership Collaborative, board of education and Main Street Covington. Currently, the chamber is facilitating meetings between Covington Mayor Kim Carter and County Chairman Kathy Morgan and industry leaders, so the executives can address concerns and learn how local governments can help.
To provide educational training and resources for businesses, Hall and his staff are starting a "Business 101" series. One of the first parts of the series was the speaker on health care changes from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He said future classes are planned for social media, human resources, marketing on a dime and stress management. For information about future classes, call the chamber at (770) 786-7510 and ask for Lisa Oglesby.
"We keep hearing from small business guys that the chamber is only known for trying to recruit industry. They’re saying "Who’s working for me?" We’re working for them, we have to," Hall said.
In addition, the chamber will be an advocate for all business. While the "Business 101" classes are aimed at small business, the hiring of a Senior Vice President in charge of economic development will help address the needs of industry. Hall said the county is still in the process of talking to its finalists.
The chamber will seek ways to bring industry’s suppliers to the county, cutting down on transportation costs and making businesses more efficient.
Finally, Hall said the chamber is also devoting staff to regularly contact existing members, recruit new members and simply improve communication.
"If we provide good programs and value, we’ll grow the base organically from a healthy starting point," Hall said.
His reorganization efforts are aided by his Past Chairman’s Council. The roundtable group was created by Hall so he could draw on the knowledge of as many previous chamber chairmen as possible. He held the first meeting in April.
"It’s very valuable for me. I put it together because I needed help and perspective and they’ve delivered," Hall said.
With plenty of help, Hall and his staff will continue to refine these goals and procedures over the next several months.