A Chamber of Commerce Revival Story

Originally published on January 31, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press 

Settling in comfortably and accepting success as it comes rather than relentlessly pursuing it is like heart disease in America; the leading cause of death (of business).

Though the Montrose Chamber of Commerce accomplished many things in 2017, we cannot and will not ever profess to have “made it.”

The world of business and the way business services are consumed changes rapidly. As a servant of commerce, it is the chamber’s job to be one step ahead of that game. We must readily serve up services small businesses don’t realize they need until they have them.

Last week we covered the transformation of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce from a cumbersome organization, slow to maneuver into one more nimble that operates out of a co-working space. We discussed adopting innovative, alternative, and collaborative tendencies.

Last week’s column also said chambers of commerce originated in the 1500's. They were created so businesses could band together to promote, network, and most of all advocate their voices as a collective to local government.

And since the 1500's, there has yet to be much innovation for chambers of commerce.

Time for a facelift. The Montrose Chamber of Commerce has aimed at changing the face of the industry with our efforts, but we first set our sights on Montrose.

We felt seeking the proper balance between history and modernization would land us in a place of relatability and hopefully, relevance.

We addressed each of the three pillars of chamber work in the following ways:

1. Networking: I’ve said it publicly and I will say it again: Networking sucks.

Networking was built on the premise of self-promotion. Networking interactions center around what people can get from one another instead of what they can bring to the table in the form of contribution. Further, networking is often uncomfortable, awkward and promotes surface level relationships.

Flipping this as a usable and applicable strategy for the modern workforce, we instead seek to build communities.

Over the last year, the chamber sought out topics people were interested in and then worked on pairing businesses as facilitators of these small communities.

The goal always being creation of a depth of connection over shared interest. Inevitably people will discuss their professions, their interests, and their experiences. These conversations facilitate trust between individuals, which later breeds an environment of loyalty or commitment to exchange goods or services down the road.

2. Promotion: The Montrose Chamber of Commerce sees its membership much like the membership of a gym; it only works when both parties are engaged in the process. As evidenced by the thousands of leftover brochures and business cards taking up space in the old chamber building, gone are the days chambers can claim “promotion” of business as they always have.

Carrying brochures and listing business names on the chamber website is not effective as promotion is simply not the same animal it was even 10 years ago.

And sadly, we still see many small businesses operating under the belief they can continue promoting themselves as they did before and expect the same results.

Promotion was an area where the chamber had to push on our members a bit. They day we moved into Proximity Space, we officially stopped accepting any form of brochure or business card. We do not accept paper fliers. We have gone digital.

We’ve worked toward teaching or reminding our members to use digital assets as much as possible. We often assist in the creation of these assets and then promote our businesses through a three-pronged strategy: email, social media, and digital media screens. As a result, businesses are have more motivation to communicate with us on a regular basis. This approach is not revolutionary, but it was time we ripped off the Band-aid in Montrose and asked more of our business community.

3. Advocacy: Business advocacy is quite simply the foundation of all chamber work.

It is the premise of why chambers were created in the first place and without it, we’d be a purposeless ambling organization with a broken compass.

One year ago, the Montrose Chamber of Commerce was not advocating for small business. We’d lost our way and quite frankly had no idea where “the way” even was anymore.

So we listened. We worked on breaking down the walls of local political division and studied how we could serve both government and business. To the top of the pile surfaced one thought: access. In both directions.

Since then, the Montrose Chamber of commerce, through its Government Affairs Council (GAC), began a live forum model. During legislative session, we host video conferences with Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Marc Catlin (the next one is at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 13, at CMU). We’ve also done the same with the City of Montrose and Montrose County. These roundtable conversations promote understanding, trust, and best of all: communication.

Additionally, GAC has approached local topics such as affordable (attainable) housing, transportation, and tax issues. The GAC works as a platform for both sides of an issue to come together on common ground for the betterment of business in Montrose County.

The Montrose Chamber of Commerce seeks relevancy in the business community. Not just the type of relevancy often mistaken for survival; keeping the doors open, paying staff salaries, etc. Rather, we try to live each day as an important enough part of business in Montrose that were we to cease to exist, the absence would be palpable.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.