On March 23rd, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce held its 114th Annual Meeting at the Classic Center. In addition to being a fundraiser for the Chamber it is also an opportunity for 400 business and community leaders to gather for an evening of networking, dinner, and reflection on where we are as a community organization and to recognize some award-winning members for all that they do.
The 2017 board chair, Dean Mannheimer with Athens First Bank &Trust, asked if I would give an update on where the Chamber stands — a “State of the Chamber” address, if you will.
Here is the text of my remarks that we want to share with the entire community:
As I close out my 10th year here, I have to tell you that I have never been as proud of a group of people as I am of the Chamber and our volunteers, the business community as a whole, and most importantly, our members and their willingness to give of their resources, both financial and time, to get to where we are.
What I am most proud of is that we have earned back the respectability and credibility of our community. Doing so has allowed us to focus on being more relevant: Relevant to the community as a whole, relevant to the area businesses and, most importantly, relevant to our members.
There have been a number of conscious, well-thought-out decisions made by our board over the last 10 years to do a number of things.
We have strengthened what was a fragile relationship with our local government and our elected officials. Both former Mayor Heidi Davison and current Mayor Nancy Denson have reached out to us and included us in important efforts such as Partners for A Prosperous Athens, Youth Development Task Force, Envision Athens, Airport Service Development Team and others.
We have strengthened our relationship and involvement with the Clarke County School District by revitalizing our Education Committee, recognizing exceptional work of the students and teachers, and helping to promote news and events for the district.
We are proud of the progress and increased cooperation, communication and participation with members of higher education institutions. Of course that means the Univeristy of Georgia and all that they mean to our area and beyond, but also Athens Technical College, the University of North Georgia and Piedmont College.
We have expanded the membership of our board of directors to try and more closely reflect our community.
Our LEAD Athens leadership program is entering its 34th year. It is one of our crown jewels and is recognized to be one of the top programs in the state.
We have created and improved functions that avail themselves not only to networking opportunities but focus on providing outside expertise in areas critical to today’s successful businesses. Among those functions is our Small Business Breakfast Club, meeting monthly and bringing in experts to talk about things like Search Engine Optimization, building effective employee leaders, hiring practices, and finance, just to mention a few.
We supported the creation of — and continue to support — the Economic Development Department of our local government and the fine job they do in creating good, decent-paying jobs for our citizens. This department of the local government is located in our building, making us the one-stop shop for existing business or those wanting to come here, regardless of whether they are on the east side, west side, or downtown.
Our Network Lunches have taken on a fresh approach to providing relevant tools to business. Along with our traditional Business After Hours and Small Business Breakfasts, the Chamber consistently reaches 200 business and individuals each month.
Our goal is to be relevant — relevant to business, our community, and of greatest importance, to our members.
A conservative estimate is that 70 percent to 80 percent of the jobs in Athens are represented by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce as members, volunteers, and board members. That is relevance.
Lastly, Dean Mannheimer has established his motto for the year of his term as board chiarman. That motto is “Fostering A Spirit of Service.” Part of the work of addressing that motto will be showing and encouraging businesses to support the various nonprofits in our community. I recently polled our board members regarding the various community projects and nonprofits that were supported by them and/or their business. Virtually every single such group in Athens is supported by that group of 30 men and women.
That, I submit to you, is pretty impressive and says loud and clear that your Chamber of Commerce is indeed relevant to our community, in the purest sense of the word.
Doc Eldridge is president and CEO of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.