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All-Star Sales Advice
Fall 2014
By Several Authors

Fall 2014

Five top membership sales professionals share insights and strategies they use to
consistently perform at the top of their game.

What’s the best sales advice you ever heard?

Pruente: LOSE THE FOLDER. My father-in-law is a small business owner, like many of our members, and when he saw my sales material he said, “If I saw you come into my shop dressed like that with your sales folder in your hand, I’d hide in the back and tell my staff to tell you I wasn’t here. You may be selling the best product ever, but I’m too busy to talk with sales people and I immediately turn them away.”

You should go in with nothing but a business card, and they’ll treat you like a customer. If you travel light and lose the folder, you’ll set yourself up for a better reception and a higher likelihood of talking with the owner.

Also, dress the part. My first chamber president encouraged me to dress professionally, but try and match my appearance to those I would be meeting that day. If you’re meeting with a mechanic and wearing a suit, you’re sending a message that he might not fit your organization. It’s the same with homebased businesses or young tech companies. If you show up in a suit, they might assume your organization is too formal for them.

Turley: DON’T SELL. Instead, solve problems for your customers and good things will come.

Clark: CONTACT THREE NEW SALES LEADS every day for 21 days and it will become a habit.

Fanelli: IT’S GREAT IF A PROSPECT SAYS “yes.” “No” is OK, but “maybe” is quicksand. As sales people, our job is to get the sale. Sometimes we want to avoid a “no” at all costs, but that can be dangerous. It’s OK for them to say no. Then you can move on and not waste time (wasted time = quicksand).

If my prospect is stalling after I’ve guided him correctly through my entire sales process, I say this: “It seems like maybe the timing is just not right for you to join the chamber now. I’m going to close your file and you can get in touch with me when the timing is better.” One of two things will happen. They’ll say “No, don’t close my file! I want to join!” Or, “The timing really isn’t right. Go ahead and close my file and I’ll be in touch.” Now you know and you can move on and not waste any more time.

Keibler: ALWAYS DO BETTER THAN LAST MONTH. That is my motto since my second day of work. When I started this job they told me to go out that day and not return until I had two memberships, so I did. I worked for four years before they told me that they were kidding! They didn’t think I would be able to do it! For the first eight years I sold at least two every day. I didn’t know any better.

What’s the best sales advice you ever heard?

Pruente: ADMIT YOU’RE IN SALES. Many of us got into this profession but didn’t want to be in sales. We all hope to position our chamber as a resource, and educate businesses about our programs and services, but that is sales! Once you admit that you’ll open yourself up to training and development tailored specifically for sales, and you’ll learn techniques that work for other sales professionals. In the end the chamber name/brand will get you the meeting, but sales training will help you close the sale quicker and more often. It took me 3-4 years to come to grips with the fact that I was a “salesman” but once I did, I benefited greatly. And let’s be honest: the chamber is an easy sale!

Turley: FOLLOW THE FUNDAMENTALS. Selling is a matter of repetition. You should have a system in place that allows you to replicate steps each week which keeps your meeting list full and your closing opportunities great. The litmus test for a great salesperson is staying with your plan when times are tough. Too many salespeople throw in the towel when times get tough. By practicing the fundamentals of sales and tailoring those steps to your personality, you can ensure a level of consistency throughout your sales career.

Clark: DON’T TAKE “NO” PERSONALLY. It might mean “not now but maybe later.” Always follow up in a timely manner. Three basic components to any sales job: Prospect, Follow Up, Close the Sale.

Fanelli: DON’T KNOCK YOUR COMPETITION. In some industries, you need to point out your competition’s weaknesses to highlight your strengths, but I don’t recommend that in the chamber world. I always tell my prospects that it’s not that one chamber is better than the other. Chambers are all alike in some ways and different in others. A chamber membership is a marketing tool. I describe to them how our chamber will help find new clients. Focus on your strengths, not other chambers’ weaknesses. Take the high road.

Keibler: LOVE YOUR JOB. Always find a way to connect to the business you are trying to sign up. Talk to your board, friends, family. Someone is likely to know the person at the business you want to sign up.

What advice would you give to a veteran sales rep in a slump?

Pruente: DON’T TRY SO HARD. I was recently in the worst slump of my career. I was calling prospect after prospect and none of them would join. The more I called, the more my results were the same: no sales. I was smothering my prospects and they could feel it. You never want your prospects to feel that you need the sale. So I took a step back and didn’t make any calls for two days (which was very hard to do). Instead I went out and called on existing members that I knew would be good for a few new referrals. Sure enough my meetings generated new leads. I focused on and researched them instead of harassing my old tired leads. In the end some of my old/tired prospects came in, but getting out of the office and talking to existing members gave me new leads to focus on and cleared my head.

Turley: DON’T OVER-ANALYZE. It can do more harm than good in a slump. Step back and analyze your daily activities and which ones actually contribute to sales. Are you taking care of non-sales tasks before the day begins so you can focus on meetings, follow-up and closings? Or are you letting unproductive activities take you away from your central focus. We all get too comfortable from time-to-time, especially veterans who have a long track record of success. I would also recommend staying up on current sales practices through books, seminars, etc.

Clark: GO BACK TO THE BASICS. A well maintained prospecting list (from years back) and a cancelled member list becomes a great new prospecting list. Hit the street and start prospecting again. Watch ads in magazines and newspapers for non-members. Cold Call.

Fanelli: PROSPECT, FOLLOW UP AND CLOSE. If you’ve been in sales for a while, chances are you’ve had referrals coming your way and you may have become a bit complacent. You’re starting from scratch now. Jump in like you did on your first day.


What’s the most important habit/trait for a successful membership sales person?

Pruente: SCHEDULE TIME FOR YOUR CALLS. A sales consultant suggested two prime selling times on three days of the week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. These are the best times to catch prospects on the phone or in person if you stop by. The concept sounds easy, but doing it takes a commitment. I often close my office door during these hours and appear anti-social to my co-workers, but those are the best times to connect with prospects. Organize/research/plan your day from 7-9 a.m., make actual sales calls during the 9-11 a.m. window, send follow up e-mails over lunch, and then make calls again from 2-4 p.m., concluding your day delivering all of the follow-up that you promised during your calls. This is much harder than you think, but if you work towards this goal you’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish.

Turley: WORK ETHIC! You have to have a strong work ethic to keep working at sales when others would quit. Some of the most successful salespeople succeed not because they are smarter, but because they out-work everyone else.

Clark: BE A SELF-STARTER, self-motivated, confident, and believe in what you’re selling.

Fanelli: DON’T OVER-SELL. When you’re describing how the chamber is going to work for them and they say, “That sounds great!” ask for the check! Don’t start in on other wonderful things about your chamber. Ask for the check! We have a tendency to get very excited about our chamber, which is great, but when you’ve hit on the perfect element for your prospect, you’re done.

Keibler: BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU’RE DOING, keep learning and listening for new fresh ideas. Remember, you are not selling a tangible product that they can hold in their hands. More than likely you will be the one they rely on.

What’s the best way to interest a prospect in joining the chamber? Is there a best way to close the sale?

Turley: ASK QUESTIONS. I’ve studied books on closing and presentations, and establishing a relationship should be foremost when meeting with a prospect. I don’t agree with some of the closing tactics presented in books. I always have a list of questions to ask business leaders so I can better understand their needs. From there, I can better represent what my organization can do to help solve their problems. And, you have to ask for their business. Too many sales people do not ask, “Will you join?” I’ve had businesses say they enrolled because I asked when others would not.

Clark: LISTEN TO THE PROSPECT’S NEEDS. Match the benefit of joining the chamber with their needs. A business owner doesn’t always want to know every little piece of information. Be able to read your prospect. Sometimes we over-sell or talk too much. The best way to close is to ASK: “Will you be paying with check or credit card today?”

Fanelli: DON’T LAUNCH INTO A DISSERTATION ON THE VIRTUES OF MEMBERSHIP. Ask questions to determine which elements of your programming will work best for this particular business. Don’t wade through the entire information packet. Start with a blank pad of paper. Ask questions, jot down the answers. Match your response to their communications style. If their questions indicate a “right-brained” person, paint a picture of how your chamber will help them or tell how a similar member has been successful there. If they’re asking for numbers and statistics, it’s a left-brained person and your answers should make them see themselves being successful in your chamber. Pull out parts of the packet that pertain to them and their business and you’ll be customizing a presentation that will interest them.

Keibler: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. I check out all companies online, find out who knows them and use that person to help me. I always end with “if you’ll just take a minute to fill out this membership application your benefits will start right away.” Do not ask “are you ready?”

Lessons from Leaders: Regional Collaboration
Fall 2014
By Several Authors

Fall 2014

If there ever was a time when a single chamber could marshal resources and tackle big community issues alone, that day has surely passed. Today in regions large and small, collaboration— productive partnerships with schools, civic organizations, elected leaders, universities, employee groups, state agencies and other business interests—is the way big things happen. Leading a collaborative effort can feel like thankless work. After all, collaboration means sharing the work and the credit, and focusing on a broader outcome. While chambers often deflect the credit to partners at home, ACCE’s recognition programs shine a spotlight on chambers and their successes.

The following case studies in community development, advocacy, and enterprise support are the result of significant regional collaboration. They are drawn from chambers who took home top honors at the 2014 ACCE Annual Convention.

Changing the Economic Tide
Putnam County (Fla.) Chamber of Commerce 
2014 Chamber of the Year, Category 1

In the midst of the recession, Putnam County, a predominantly rural area in north central Florida, was suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. With area businesses closing, unemployment rising and retail sales declining, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce sought to reverse the trend and help strengthen the local economy.

The chamber saw an uptick in inquiries about starting a business, and lots of existing businesses approached the chamber for help on marketing strategies and funding sources. The community’s entrepreneurial drive was alive, but the chamber’s five professional staffers were not fully equipped to assist.

The solution was to establish a local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), housed at the chamber, to provide a fulltime office with certified professionals who could offer advice and training to potential entrepreneurs and existing businesses seeking assistance to recover and grow. Alignment with Florida’s SBDC Network would bring the best business assistance resources. It was up to the chamber to marshal the financial resources necessary to make it happen.

The chamber reached out to all the local government entities. The County Commission, City of Palatka Community Redevelopment Agency, and Putnam County Development Authority all contributed to the new initiative while the chamber raised private funds. The balance, roughly $50,000, was funded by state and federal grants Changing the Economic Tide Putnam County (Fla.) Chamber of Commerce 2014 Chamber of the Year, Category 1 through Florida SBDC and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

By March of 2012, the chamber and a selection committee hired a business consultant and begin publicizing the full range of services. The roll-out consisted of open house events, radio ads, social media and direct mail to invite the whole community to take part in this new, exciting resource.

Performance benchmarks including quality of client counseling, effectiveness of workshops, and number of new businesses were established to track results. So far, the program has been hugely successful, serving over 400 clients, helping retain 45 jobs while creating 40 new jobs and spurring $9.4 million in new investments. This has been done through 600+ hours of counseling and 24 workshops during the first 12 months of service.

The return on investment for the creation of the Putnam County Small Business Development Center has been tremendous. For every $1 invested, more than $4 was returned to increase the tax base of the region due to increased sales and new jobs.

The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce elevated the potential success of its service area by acting quickly in troubled times to ensure future success. By working together with the Florida SBDC and local government partners, the chamber was able to turn the corner on a growing crisis and put the community on a path toward growth.


Uniting Business Voices 
McLean County (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce 
2014 Chamber of the Year, Category 2

Central Illinois is home to a major research university and a diverse business base with several multinational corporate headquarters. It’s a vital driver of the state’s economy but is often politically overshadowed by Chicagoland to the north. To better represent the region’s interests in Springfield, the McLean County Chamber of Commerce joined with 16 other chambers to form the Central Illinois Regional Chamber Legislative Effort (CIRCLE).

Each year, CIRCLE conducts a member survey about issues that affect their businesses. Survey responses are then compiled and prioritized to make up CIRCLE’s advocacy objectives for each year.

Now in its fifth year, CIRCLE has become a powerful force at the statehouse. In 2013 CIRCLE joined a successful push for pension reform legislation and helped prevent a statewide minimum wage increase. With the minimum wage issue back, CIRCLE’s 2014 priorities are:

•   Continued opposition to the proposed statewide minimum wage increase

•   Oppose permanent increase of 68 percent in Illinois’ income tax rate

•   Comprehensive worker’s compensation reform

This year’s strategy included a Central Illinois Lobby Day in Springfield that featured CIRCLE-organized meetings, panel discussions with legislators, testimony from member businesses and presentations from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. In addition to advocacy efforts at the statehouse, CIRCLE also pushes information to members about legislative and policy concerns.

The capacity of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, or any other partner entities, to affect policy change is heightened by this collaborative effort. Together, members of CIRCLE are able to continue their collective commitment to enhancing economic vitality and promoting a climate conducive to capital investment and job creation.


Fighting for Flights 
Hilton Head Island-Bluffton (S.C.) Chamber of Commerce 
2014 Chamber of the Year, Category 3

Hilton Head Island attracts 2.4 million visitors each year who create an economic impact of $1.2 billion and support 24,000 area jobs. It is obviously a tourist-reliant region.

The foundation of Hilton Head Island’s economy was shaken in the recession as the travel market slumped and air carriers began cutting service to the Savannah/Hilton International Airport. AirTran announced that it was pulling out of the market completely. With fewer carriers and flights, accessibility dropped and ticket prices rose dramatically. In 2013 USA TODAY ranked the airport among the country’s top 10 most expensive.

With 48 percent of passengers flying into the airport headed to Hilton Head Island, the Hilton Head Island- Bluffton Chamber of Commerce recognized the need to attract additional service to secure the region’s attractiveness for business and leisure travelers. By working with the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, the Savannah Chamber of Commerce, and the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the chamber was able to compile economic and market data compelling enough to attract a new carrier, JetBlue, to enter the market.

Along with their partners, the chamber held meetings with officials from JetBlue over the course of 18 months. Data from current and past carriers, growth projections and other metrics were vital, but the entire community rallied around wooing the new airline. A community video called “JetBlue We Want You” was a highlight of the public campaign.

In 2013 JetBlue announced that it would begin two direct daily flights from New York’s JFK and Boston’s Logan to Savannah/Hilton Head. Initial demand was so high that JetBlue began scheduling larger planes before the routes opened.

Attracting JetBlue has not only replaced service lost during the recession, it also has opened additional new service and lowered overall flight costs. Delta announced in 2013 that it would begin routes to JFK to compete with JetBlue. The “walk-up” ticket price, used as an industry benchmark, has also declined 64 percent from $758 to $276.

The collaborative effort that the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce engaged in enhanced its ability to work strategically on improving tourism for the area. Advanced reservations for Hilton Head Island travel are up 16 percent over the previous year, with much credit given to the ease of travel from the two top market sources, New York City and Boston.


Rallying Regional Investment 
Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce 
2014 Chamber of the Year, Category 4

In November 2013, several metro chambers were asked by Ohio Governor John Kasich to identify key community projects for inclusion in Ohio’s capital budget for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. The catch: they’d have to get their projects submitted by Dec. 18.

In response, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce reinstated its White Paper Committee, comprised of business leaders and elected officials, to solicit and identify the best projects to submit for future state funding.

With a very tight turn-around time, this group couldn’t run at typical chamber committee pace. They created an aggressive timeline with a public calendar to keep staff and volunteers on target. The first meeting took place Nov. 15 to organize the review process. That gave them just over a month to solicit input, review possible projects, select the best, get buy-in and submit a proposal by the deadline.

The chamber sent out multiple calls for action to members and the community, gathering 29 projects for review. This process was intentionally inclusive. By involving business leaders and elected officials from both parties, it was easier to get broad support for the final list of projects. More inclusion also meant a better crop of prospective projects.

In the past, many projects were rejected for state funding due to eligibility issues, so the chamber’s public Rallying Regional Investment Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce 2014 Chamber of the Year, Category 4 white paper committe affairs staff clarified the state’s evaluation process and was responsible for vetting eligibility of specific projects submitted. They hoped thorough vetting would bring a higher percentage of state funding to their region and achieve a greater number of total projects.

In the end, 14 priority projects amounting to $15 million were submitted to the state. After review, 11 of those were slated for nearly $7 million in state funding. In addition, the state reviewed arts-related projects separately, awarding $3.5 million to those in the Toledo area. With a total of $10.5 million in funding, it was more than double what the region had received in the past two capital budgets, and increased the percentage of the state’s total budget received by the area by 20 percent. This funding will leverage more than $100 million in funding for other community projects.

This enormous effort took 30 volunteers along with chamber staff and elected officials more than 400 hours to complete, all with minimal expense—only $100 was spent on lunches.

In addition to the significant impact on jobs and investment, the Toledo Regional Chamber was acknowledged in major newspapers for its leadership in the process. The commitment to collecting public and private sector input on budget projects provided an opportunity to improve the region significantly for sustained economic growth.


Boosting College Enrollment 
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce 
2014 Regional Innovation Award Winner

Recognizing that 85 percent of all new jobs nationwide require some level of postsecondary education, the Greater Austin Chamber realized the key to improving Metro Austin’s economic competiveness is higher education attainment. The chamber has taken the lead in removing three obstacles to earning a college degree identified by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation:

•   If you don’t apply to college, you won’t go.

•   If you don’t have the money to pay for college, you won’t go.

•   If you’re not academically prepared for college, you won’t graduate.

In 2005, the chamber embarked on an ambitious plan to boost college enrollment of high school graduates to 20,010 by 2010, a 30 percent increase in five years. The chamber pushed 15 school districts to add one college enrollment manager at each high school, and lobbied colleges to accept a common Texas college application. ApplyTexas, a free web portal, has simplified application and enrollment processes for college counselors.

To address the financial issue, the chamber expanded and promoted the Financial Aid Saturday program, which provides free assistance to high school seniors and parents in navigating financial aid forms, and coordinated IRS and Department of Education processes to allow counselors and applicants to better track their aid status. Aid applications are up 99 percent over eight years.

To chip away at the college readiness issue, the chamber funds Partners in Education, which brings volunteers into the classroom to tutor and mentor 1,000 seniors in every high school.

Round one was so successful, the chamber has doubled down for round two. The next five-year plan aims to raise the share of local graduates who enroll in college directly after high school from 62 to 70 percent by 2015. The chamber has partnered with the University of Texas Ray Marshall Center to launch the Student Futures Project, which tracks graduates for four years after graduation to gather trends and data on employment and higher education outcomes. They will also launch a summer counseling program.

Throughout the effort, the chamber has embraced data-collection and continuous improvement principles. With student surveys, graduate tracking, and regional report cards, the chamber relies heavily on statistics and data to support and adjust its approach. The chamber also has been highly collaborative in this effort, engaging 15 school districts, 10 higher education institutions, state and federal agencies, and, of course, hundreds of business leaders.

Holistic, collaborative, multi-platform, data-intensive and business-led. A sophisticated strategy for a complex challenge that is producing real results.


Building an Ecosystem 
The Dallas Entrepreneur Center 
2014 Regional Innovation Award Winner

The Dallas/Fort Worth region has a strong and highly active corporate community. But historically that base hasn’t engaged with the startup community. The Dallas Entrepreneur Center wants to change that.

In collaboration with the Dallas Regional Chamber, The Dallas Entrepreneur Center (DEC) was launched in June 2013 to support the Dallas/Fort Worth entrepreneurial ecosystem, support job growth, and stimulate the regional economy. It provides a centralized location for incubation, co-working, education, training, mentoring, and access to capital. The DEC supports entrepreneurs through its incubator program by matching mentors based on skills and experience, helping students at local universities start businesses, building a community within the ecosystem, and promoting the region nationally as a hub of entrepreneurial activity.

The DEC is a collaborative environment brimming with experts and thought leaders. It was built on the belief that the strongest entrepreneurial ecosystems must be nurtured from all segments of the talent and resource spectrum. Therefore, the DEC has built unique, value-added partnerships among corporations, start-ups, investors, academic institutions and government entities.

The DEC was built on strategic regional goals embraced by the Dallas Regional Chamber: increasing job creation and capital for startups. In just one year of operation it has racked up an impressive checklist of stats:

•   5,000 entrepreneurs have attended an event at the DEC

•   200 entrepreneurs have formally applied to be in the DEC

•   150 mentors have signed up to mentor companies through the DEC

•   500 mentor hours have been devoted to helping startups in the DEC

•   five national programs have been launched through the DEC (Co Founders Lab, Tech Cocktail, Google Next, 1 Million Cups, Startup Grind)

•   $3 million in equity has been raised by DEC companies • $300,000 has been donated by corporate sponsors and the City of Dallas to launch the DEC

Lessons from Leaders: Outstanding Work in Chamber Communications
Fall 2014
By Several Authors

Fall 2014

Virtually every entry in ACCE’s Awards for Communication Excellence program is a valuable case study in effective chamber communications. While available resources for chamber communications projects range widely from meager to generous, the mission scope is laser focused: assist business, advance community.

This year’s ACE competition attracted 163 entries in four categories: advertising/marketing, campaigns, electronic, and publications. Awards were given in two size classes: chambers with budgets exceeding $1 million and those with smaller budgets. Winning was not based merely on good writing and excellent design. Results matter. Was the communication effective?

Judges declared one Grand Award trophy winner in each category in the two size classes, and gave Award of Excellence certificates as they deemed appropriate. Judges added the phrase “Special Recognition” to some certificates when the entry was a trophy contender.

At ACCE’s August convention in Cincinnati, a second group of judges evaluated the four Grand Award winners in the two size classes and bestowed “Best in Show” awards, which were announced during the convention awards program.

The following narratives were excerpted from the winners’ entry forms. Use these summaries as benchmarks and learning models, applying the best of the best to improve your chamber’s communications.


Class 1 (chambers with revenue above $1 million)

Grand Award and Best in Show 
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce - “WorkIT Nashville” Technology Recruitment Campaign

The technology industry in middle Tennessee is projected to grow an average of 4.4 percent annually, and a recent study noted that Nashville had 836 information technology jobs open, but only 50 of those jobs were entry-level. Most local companies need IT workers with 3-5 years of experience. This could be a barrier to future economic development efforts if not addressed proactively. WorkITNashville. com is the result of a year-long collaboration among the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, Nashville Technology Council, Williamson County and businesses in the region.

The goal of is to create a platform where any company in our 10-county region can post jobs at no cost and search for qualified candidates locally, nationally and abroad. Our goal was to help businesses across the 10-county region by identifying a talent pool of experienced tech workers interested in relocating to the Nashville area. Our strategy:

•   The central portal is, featuring a unique job-matching technology that benefits job seekers and companies. Candidates upload their resumes, create an individual profile, connect to LinkedIn and search for jobs. Local companies post their job openings, create company pages and search the database of candidates. The website also markets the Nashville region with robust content about the local IT community, neighborhoods, entertainment, cost of living, demographics, philanthropy, family activities and more.

•   The WorkIT Nashville Guidebook helps 1,500 local employers promote the features of our community as they recruit.

•   Digital marketing tactics included social media, blogging and online advertising to tell the stories of IT workers in our region and direct people to the website.

The launch of the website included more than 300 business and government leaders from across the region. More than 200 companies have used the website in its first year. Since launch, we’ve had more than 182,000 job searches, and candidates from 42 states and 45 countries have created profiles, expressing interest in moving to the Nashville area.


Advertising and Marketing 
Grand Award 
Columbus (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce 2013 - Annual Meeting Promotion: “Lead Like a Champion”

Early 2013 marked a pivotal point for the Columbus Chamber. It was one year into a new business model in which the chamber revamped its offerings to better serve Columbus businesses. The Annual Meeting offered an opportunity to celebrate the successes of the “new” chamber.

The first step was to recruit a keynote speaker who would capture the community’s attention. Urban Meyer, in his first year as The Ohio State University head football coach, agreed to serve. It was his first major public appearance. Building on Meyer’s success (the team enjoyed a 12-0 season), our theme became “Lead Like a Champion,” and his talk focused on attracting and retaining top talent. Other speakers emphasized the chamber’s role as a “Champion for business.” Thanks to aggressive event promotion, attendance rose 27 percent to 1,400, net profits increased 32 percent, and 98 percent of the attendees rated the event excellent or good. More importantly, 95 percent said they agreed that the meeting reinforced their understanding of the chamber’s new mission.


Grand Award 
Allegheny Conference on Community Development -

In 2013, the Allegheny Conference launched its redesign of, a powerful job search engine and a virtual concierge, showcasing Pittsburgh’s work, live and play assets. The new website encourages people to re-imagine Pittsburgh to advance a career and build a life. The website was originally launched to build awareness of the 250th anniversary of the naming of the city of Pittsburgh. It was enhanced in 2008 with a job search engine. Market research shifted our focus to our talent shortage and the need for mid-career talent.

The website has a new job search engine that finds job openings in the 10-county region by searching 950 national sources. There are more than 24,000 open positions available across all sectors and experience levels. The website also includes profiles (photos and video) highlighting new residents and why they chose Pittsburgh. Site visitors are encouraged to connect with them through LinkedIn to learn more about careers and opportunities in the Pittsburgh region. Paid sponsors (employers) have profiles on the site, with photos and video, showcasing their companies as great places to work.

Since launch, we’ve averaged 16,000 visits per month, a 37.8% increase from before the launch. Time spent on the site is 4.29 minutes, almost 3 minutes longer than previously.


Grand Award 
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce - “Music Industry Study”

One of the core competencies of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is original research, which helps support and promote the growth of industry in our region. To support this goal, the chamber launched its Research Center in 2013 to provide members with data, analysis and industry research on economics and demographics. One of our first studies was commissioned by the Music City Music Council to evaluate the economic impact of Nashville’s music industry. Among other conclusions, the study found that Nashville’s music industry contributes $9.7 billion to the city’s economy each year and accounts for 56,000 jobs within the Nashville area.

The study was designed and produced by the chamber’s communications team for the Research Center. The 85-page publication combined data analysis and narratives, which presented new findings, insights and opportunities for the industry. Findings were reported by The New York Times, The Atlantic Cities, The Tennessean and the Nashville Business Journal, among other national media.

This important research and exposure validated Nashville’s reputation as an international powerhouse of the entertainment industry, elevated the work of the chamber’s Research Center, and differentiated the chamber’s brand from other organizations in the region. The success of this study has opened doors to new research clients, which has created an additional revenue center.



Class 2 (chambers with revenue below $1 million)

Grand Award and Best in Show 
Champaign County (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce - Business Emergency Relief Campaign

On Nov. 17, 2013, 73 tornadoes ripped through the Midwest, causing more than $1 billion in property damage. The next day, in partnership with the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce established a Business Emergency Relief Grant Program. The goal was to prevent businesses in our community from becoming part of the following statistics: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster; another 25 percent fail within the first year after a disaster. The U.S. Small Business Administration says the failure rate increases to 90 percent by the second year after a disaster.

Fundraising for this project started on Nov. 18 and ended Dec. 5. The process was stress-free for affected businesses to access emergency relief funds—they simply had to fill out a one-page application which was available on the chamber’s website. Affected businesses could use the funds for building materials, labor costs associated with rebuilding, direct costs related to operation of their business, lost revenue, replacing inventory, payroll, paying bills, new equipment such as computers and printers, office supplies, and any other approved use on a case-by-case basis.

A committee of business and civic leaders reviewed applications and determined how the funds would be dispersed. Businesses of the Gifford community also were offered complimentary chamber memberships for one year, exposure in our newsletter and complimentary admission to a spring breakfast. We wanted to create a program that assisted businesses in neighboring counties that were negatively impacted by this disaster, regardless of whether they were members of the Champaign County Chamber. In addition to raising money to help affected businesses, we wanted to increase awareness about the severity of the event and show other communities what can be accomplished when we all work together to reach a common goal.

Our marketing included press releases, emails to members, notices in our weekly e-newsletter, and exposure on local TV and the local newspaper about our progress.

More than 40 different businesses and community members donated $16,859.50 in less than 20 days. We distributed funds to 15 businesses in the town of Gifford, helping to keep businesses open and creating awareness that the commercial core of a community is instrumental to the success of any thriving community.


Advertising and Marketing 
Grand Award 
McLean County (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce - Image Piece

In February 2013 we set out to create an image piece highlighting the value and benefits of membership in the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. Collaborating with local design company Business Builders, we developed a dynamic 9” x 7” booklet with an interior pocket on the inside back cover. It has surpassed our expectations and now serves as an integral component to new member recruitment.

The piece focuses on our mission statement, with two-page spreads devoted to each mission component, as well as statistics from the latest Schapiro report regarding the value of chamber membership. The layout provides a general overview of the services offered by the chamber in a format that is conducive to face-to-face presentations. It’s also designed to be read on its own. A pocket on the inside back cover allows us to customize additional content we want to deliver to a prospect.

Since production of the brochure, we have seen more than 115 new members join the chamber, which we believe is a direct result of the creative delivery of our message.


Grand Award 
Thomasville (N.C.) Area Chamber of Commerce - All-America City Video

In 2011, the Thomasville Area Chamber of Commerce led the community through the development of a broad consensus on a community vision and strategic plan with full engagement and buy in from elected officials and the business community. The plan includes strategies for generating visibility for the community.

We applied for the 2013 All-America City award as part of this strategy. To win, communities must apply, then reach the finalist category and make a presentation at the annual All-America City conference. The award focuses on citizen engagement in community problemsolving as demonstrated through three specific projects. Only 10 winners are selected from the entire country each year. The Thomasville Area Chamber spearheaded our community’s All-America City effort, including fundraising, application, script writing and more.

Competing communities are encouraged to create a community video. Our video was filmed by professionals and featured two individuals who told the story of two of our projects. Neither person was scripted. They were interviewed and spoke naturally and authentically about some of our community improvement efforts. Local scenes were included that reflected the community’s transition, people and resilience.

The chamber staff managed the process including recruiting the video team (who donated their talents), arranging speakers, suggesting interview questions, and arranging locations and filming schedule.

Thomasville was a winner of the 2013 All- America City award. The award and our video have helped greatly in promoting Thomasville. Our mayor has reported an increase in calls and inquiries to his office as a result of the award, and 2013 outpaced 2012 and 2011 in new business investments. (


Grand Award 
Kerrville (Texas) Area Chamber of Commerce - BusinessLink Monthly Newsletter

The Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce partners with our local daily newspaper, the Kerrville Daily Times, to produce a monthly newsletter, BusinessLink, exclusively featuring chamber members. BusinessLink, the only newsletter focused solely on our business community, is distributed at key locations around the community, at the chamber, in all relocation packets, and through the Kerrville Daily Times as an insert. Total monthly distribution exceeds 11,000.

Each month, our Communications Committee selects a theme which is carried in all communications from the chamber, including our e-newsletter, seminars, and news releases. It’s also the feature of the month’s BusinessLink.

For example, the June 2013 theme was “Hub of the Hill Country.” The Hill Country of Texas is a multi-county region of which Kerrville County, population 50,000, is the heart. Kerrville merchants and businesses serve thousands of tourists and regional consumers who drive two hours from surrounding communities to conduct business here. This theme also supported our three-year strategic plan, which includes community-wide branding, increasing economic growth, and emphasizing Kerrville as a “regional hub” and “tourism destination.”

The Kerrville Daily Times staff sells advertising for BusinessLink, with a small portion of ad sales returned to the chamber. We incur no costs for printing and distribution.

Appalachia’s Polar Express
Fall 2014
By Katherine House

Fall 2014

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a blue and yellow CSX train chugs over trestles, along winding tracks, and through stone tunnels in southwestern Virginia and parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. Unlike the freight trains hauling coal from this region, this train has a special mission—and a special passenger: Santa Claus, on the platform of the caboose, ready to greet people of all ages and pass out presents. The “Santa Train,” which makes its 72nd annual run this year, is a joint project of the Kingsport (Tenn.) Chamber of Commerce; CSX; supermarket chain Food City; and Dignity U Wear, a philanthropic organization. The tradition originated in 1943, when members of the Merchants’ Association in Kingsport, a forerunner of the chamber, wanted to thank residents of the region who traveled to their town to patronize local businesses. The tradition has survived and thrived through wars, economic booms and busts, and the age of Internet shopping. Now, as then, Kingsport serves as a regional hub. Today, retail sales (and sales taxes) remain vital to the local economy, says Miles Burdine, an ACCE Board member and president and CEO of the chamber, in part because Tennessee does not levy a tax on wages. The Santa Train also ushers in the holiday season, just as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade does in New York. When the train pulls into Kingsport mid-afternoon, Santa hops off and participates in the town’s Christmas parade, which brings thousands of people downtown. 

The size and scope of the Santa Train project are staggering. The train travels a 110-mile route and gives out goodies at 14 stops, including the starting point in Kentucky and its final stop in Kingsport. It departs at 6:30 a.m., requiring train riders to be bused to the starting point the night before, where they stay at a hotel and review last-minute details. The amount of time the train stops in each town is predetermined and varies from 10 to 20 minutes. The schedule is tight. Santa must arrive in Kingsport on time. Along the route, he and other volunteers hand out about 15 tons of goodies, including books, candy, puzzles, toys, winter clothing, and wrapping paper. At each stop, crowds range in size from a few hundred to more than a thousand.

As it did at the outset, the business community and chamber play a vital role in planning and executing the event. Each year, the chamber names a staff member to serve as Santa Train Coordinator, responsible for behind-the-scenes work and coordinating conference calls with the other sponsors. The chamber also serves as the conduit for numerous in-kind and financial donations that make the event possible, says Amy Margaret Allen, 2014 Santa Train coordinator and the chamber’s convention/ visitors bureau executive assistant and marketing manager. The staff unpacks donations and sends personalized thank-you notes to everyone who donates.

When the chamber runs out of room to store everything, Allen will call Food City, and move items into its large warehouse. The Kingsport Chamber also collects funds for a $5,000 college scholarship given to a high school student living along the train’s route. Saint Nick himself, Kingsport accountant Don Royston, is a chamber member and past board chair. He’s only the fourth Santa in 72 years.

“It’s a time-honored and cherished tradition” that holds a “special place in our hearts” says Nicole Austin, IOM, the chamber’s 2013 Santa Train Coordinator. It “brings a lot of joy to the staff and community.” Austin is the chamber’s workforce development and government relations director.

Over the years, the Santa Train has garnered national publicity. CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt featured it in an “On the Road” segment. It has its own Facebook page and web site, complete with a countdown clock, and is the subject of a children’s book by a Kingsport author. For the last several years, a celebrity—often a country singer—has gone along on the ride. Eastern Kentucky native Patty Loveless has been the honored guest; this year it will be Amy Grant. As a child, Loveless received gifts from the Santa Train and later recorded a song about the Christmas tradition.

As a result of the national spotlight, the chamber receives donations from across the U.S., including toys, quilts, stuffed animals and hand-knitted items. Members of a church group in Indiana buy teddy bears and personalize them with hand-made clothing. “They are highly sought-after,” says Allen. Some of the attention has portrayed the Santa Train as a charity project for people who could not afford Christmas otherwise. Burdine says the Santa Train was not founded for that reason, nor does it continue for that reason. “It’s a labor of love,” he says. “It truly is a joy to watch the people along the route enjoy the history and traditions [of the Santa Train].”

Planning for the big day begins in earnest in August, when sponsors begin weekly conference calls that become more frequent later in the year. Allen will help with a variety of logistical details, including reserving hotel rooms in the departure city, getting riders to sign waivers and sending media requests to a public relations firm hired by CSX.

In addition to Burdine, the chamber board chair and the Santa Train Coordinator, one chamber employee is selected to ride the train each year. As a sponsor, the chamber has the privilege of inviting about 15 additional people aboard. The list is compiled throughout the year, and the chamber board chair makes the final selection, carefully choosing people who have made significant contributions to the community.

The Kingsport Chamber also helps publicize the packing party, held outdoors in the Food City parking lot the Wednesday before the Santa Train runs. Regardless of the weather, 150-200 people come out to pack the bins that will be carried onto the train for distribution, says Allen. Food City generously feeds all the volunteers.

And there is plenty of work required to put on the parade in Kingsport. As with any large event, the chamber works with local law enforcement officials, plans for handicapped parking spaces, hires local celebrities and arranges for adequate trash cans, among numerous logistical details. 

For those involved with the Santa Train—and those along the route, it’s impossible to imagine Christmas without it. Some older residents of the area have greeted the train most of their lives. As one person explained on the Santa Train Facebook page, “The Santa Train has sewn a trail of joy into the very fabric of Appalachian culture.” The writer took her children many years ago; now she goes with her grandchildren. Whether they receive gifts or not, the excitement “puts a twinkle in the eyes of the little ones like no other time of year,” she says.

Katherine House is a business writer based in Iowa City, Iowa, and a frequent contributor to Chamber Executive.


The Business Case for Early Childhood Investments
Fall 2014
By John Pepper

Fall 2014


In a lifetime of presentations and articles on various issues, I believe this topic—giving children a good start in life—is of the utmost importance. My goal is to convince you of the truth of something that I and many other business leaders believe, motivate you to act on that truth in your states and communities, and tell you how my colleagues at ReadyNation can support you in those actions.

I’m sometimes asked what concerns me most about the future of our nation. Three things weigh most heavily on my mind and heart: First: nuclear proliferation; surely I am not alone here. Second: solving our debt problem in the right way. And third: the issue that truly troubles me the most, but one that can be solved by all of us working together, is ensuring that our children—tomorrow’s leaders—have access to the education and opportunities needed for them to grow up to be independent and contributing citizens. The success of our country absolutely depends on our future generations becoming productive adults.

We talk about a lot of deficits today in this country: budget deficits; trade deficits; job deficits. Make no mistake. The biggest deficit—one affecting all the others—is the deficit in the early development and education of our children under five-years-old.

You have heard the indicators of how far off track we are today in the development of our young adult population:

•   Our high school dropout rate is 20 percent, almost exactly what it was a quarter century ago, and it’s 40 percent in many major metro areas. This at a time when an estimated 70 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school education. It may not be surprising but it sure is maddening to know that in a nation with 10 million unemployed we have 4 million jobs that can’t be filled with qualified candidates.

•   The consequences of being a high school dropout are worse than ever. Unemployment rates in double digits. Income hardly supporting a family. And I cannot get out of my mind that 70 percent of the incarcerated men and women in our state prisons are high school dropouts. This is tragedy of the highest order.

•   A generation ago we led the world in the percentage of young adults who had completed college; now we have slipped to 12th.

•   On proficiency tests, U.S. students invariably place in the bottom half among all developed nations. But did you know that students from the poorest U.S. school districts score extremely low, while those from the wealthiest districts scored much higher? Here we witness one of the tragic symptoms of the plague of poverty.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and we cannot allow it to continue this way. Not if we are to be the nation we aspire to be.

Solution to the Problem

The last decade has brought us compelling evidence that quality early childhood supports for our children and their families make a lifelong difference. Neurological and educational evidence clearly shows:

•   90 percent of brain development, affecting not only cognitive skills, but also emotional health, occurs in the first five years of life. Neural connections are made at an incredible rate to form the brain’s fundamental infrastructure. These pathways for learning set the course for a lifetime. This is basic biology, pure science.

•   There is a clear and direct impact of high-quality early learning on being ready for kindergarten. Children who are ready for kindergarten are much more likely to be proficient readers in the third grade, and proficient third grade readers are more likely to graduate from high school, the basic prerequisite to a life-sustaining job.

•   A study in Cincinnati showed that 85 percent of children who tested “ready for kindergarten” were reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. This is almost twice as many as those students who were not ready for kindergarten.

Think for a moment what it feels like as a child to be in a class and not be able to read like your fellow students. You feel out of it, inferior, different. So what do you do? You struggle. You withdraw. You may act out. And finally, you may opt out. And sadly, many do. We know that students not reading proficiently are four times more likely to drop out before completing high school, and if they are poor, they are 11 times more likely to drop out.

We know that quality pre-kindergarten education can help all children be ready for kindergarten, especially those from poor and working class families. These children can be on a path to success, provided they are afforded a quality pre-K experience. Quality early childhood programs contribute to better childhood and adult health and reduce the burden of lifetime health care costs. This has enormously positive social and economic consequences for our country.

One study after another—and I have personally reviewed dozens of them—prove that the cost of quality pre-K, about $8,000 per year, pays for itself many fold, at least 2 to 1. Why? Because of the higher taxes that come from higher incomes and from the lower costs of special education, grade repetition, social welfare and incarceration, which too often follow those students who fall out of the system. In short, these investments are a financial no-brainer.

Why We Should Act Decisively

There is another reason we business folks care a lot about this issue. We’re competitive! We become obsessed when we see someone else doing something better than we are, something we know matters to our long-term success. That’s exactly what we see happening now on pre-K education.

Other developed countries provide 90 percent of their 4-yearolds with quality pre-K while we cover less than half. China has committed to giving 70 percent of its children three years of pre-K by the year 2020. Other countries get it, and we had better get it, too.

The sad fact is that most families in the U.S. cannot afford quality pre-K for their children. The cost, about $8,000 per child, represents more than 25 percent of the average family’s income. It’s unaffordable for way too many people.

Ladies and gentlemen, our situation is morally and ethically wrong. It is unfair for children’s futures to be so influenced by their family income, or by the zip code in which they are born.


This evidence is the reason why I and 1,000 other business leaders, including executives from ACCE and dozens of state, metro and local chambers of commerce, have joined ReadyNation (www.readynation. org). ReadyNation is a business membership organization that supports executives to speak to policymakers and the media about improving the economy through effective investments in children and youth. In fact, a report by ReadyNation showed that in 49 states, a chamber or business roundtable has formally endorsed early childhood education as a public policy issue. Recently, chambers in Denver, Seattle and Indianapolis, among other cities, have spoken out in support of early education initiatives in their states.

We cherish the idea of the American Dream—that if you work hard, you will succeed. But the facts show that our dream is an illusion for too many kids. Only nine percent of children born into the bottom income quintile will graduate with a post-high school degree, and the probability that those children will reach the top quintile is also a meager nine percent.

We hear a lot today about the lack of upward mobility. Views on this may differ, but there is one thing we should all be able to agree on: every child should have a fair chance to make the most of his or her life by having a good start.

The great news is that the American public is getting it. In recent polling, a remarkable 70 percent of all voters (and a majority of every party) said they would vote to support a federal plan to help states and local communities provide better childhood education. As is often the case, the public is ahead of our lawmakers. And business leadership groups like chambers and ReadyNation have been helping to mobilize public opinion and legislative support for these smart investments that pay huge dividends to our society and our economy.

Experts agree that this impact of quality pre-K on social and emotional development, in addition to cognitive learning, explains why studies conducted over 20+ years show that quality pre-K makes life-long differences in employment, income level, family formation and health.

Is quality pre-K a magic bullet? No. While it is not a total or universal cure, it does makes a life-changing difference for a significant number of children. And the cost of this investment is paid back many times. Yet, despite these facts, we are unconscionably failing to provide this opportunity to over half of our children while other countries are doing far more. This is crazy. We are committing a terrible mistake. We say it all the time: our future strength lies in the strength of our children. Yet we are failing to act on that truth.

Expanding quality early childhood education will require more money. But please never forget this investment will come back to us financially many-fold; we should keep the cost in perspective. Funding quality pre-K for all four-year-olds would represent little more than one percent of what we are spending in our defense budget every year.

So I ask of you three things:

•   Make early childhood education a foundational part of your workforce development plan in your community. Some of you already have. I hope all of you will. Learn enough about early childhood development so you can become an advocate for its expansion within your communities and states. ReadyNation can be of major assistance with research, information, and successful models from various states and communities. Please become a member (at no cost) and contact our staff; they are active across the country and they can support your efforts to become a champion for early childhood investments in your state.

•   Educate every government leader you can reach about the importance of quality early childhood development programs in your community. Tell them we need to provide children a good start now. Tell them that if we don’t do this we won’t have the nation and the future we need and to which we aspire. That is the plain and simple truth. This will only happen with business advocacy at the local, state and federal levels.

•   I urge you to make it happen in your community. If not us, who? If not now, when? The future of our children and the health and prosperity of our nation depend on it.

John Pepper is a former chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, headquartered in Cincinnati. He spoke about the issues discussed in this article at ACCE’s 100th convention in Cincinnati.


A Polarized America Lives as It Votes
Fall 2014
By Charles Babington

Fall 2014

In a groundbreaking survey, the Pew Research Center finds that Republicans and Democrats are more divided now than at any point in two decades—and that the divisions aren’t limited to the ballot box. 

Partisan gridlock, an all-too-familiar theme in U.S. politics, is typically described in anecdotal terms. Now the Pew Research Center has produced an extensive survey of Americans’ ideologies and attitudes that shows just how strikingly polarized our society has become in nearly all facets of life, not just government and politics.

The survey reveals that as the ideological center shrinks, Americans have grown more fervently liberal on the left and more ardently conservative on the right. The most politically engaged people are the ones most likely to oppose compromise, which is essential in a democracy. Substantial numbers of Americans want to live near and associate with people who think and believe like they do. Many oppose the idea of a close relative marrying someone from the “other” political party.

Perhaps most alarming, the survey finds that, among Democrats and Republicans alike, the most politically engaged Americans see the “other party” as worse than simply wrongheaded or misguided. “Partisan animosity has increased substantially,” the report says. “The share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies ‘are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.’ ”

The findings come from the largest study of U.S. political attitudes ever undertaken by the Pew Research Center via a telephone survey of 10,013 adults nationwide from January through March.

Respondents were asked, among other things, 10 “political values” questions that Pew has tracked since 1994. The study’s scope is striking, surveying about 10 times as many people as does a typical poll.

Fully half of the 10,000 people surveyed by phone have agreed to answer follow-up questions online at least through 2014, allowing the center to probe further into the causes of polarization.

The survey is helping to quantify what has become the defining theme of American politics in the past two decades. The Pew Research Center has examined political polarization for a number of years but decided it was time for deeper analysis. The center, which does not advocate solutions to policy issues, has become a trusted source of survey data that is respected across the political spectrum and is now well into a year-long study with support from William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (see Trust, Fall 2013), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Don C. and Jeane Bertsch.

The survey helps explain why Congress often seems paralyzed, unable to handle once-routine tasks—such as enacting annual budgets for the major federal agencies or raising the debt ceiling to avoid default—without first bringing the nation to the brink of economic calamity.

Among the key findings: Americans have become more strongly liberal or conservative in their views. This is especially true among the most politically engaged, who are likeliest to vote in Republican and Democratic primaries. As was welldocumented before the survey, so many U.S. House districts and states are now either overwhelmingly conservative or overwhelmingly liberal that the primary elections pose the only real threat for most lawmakers to be ousted.

That’s why a congressional Democrat’s survival instinct is to veer hard left, and a Republican’s instinct is to veer hard right. The center, where compromises are forged, is increasingly lonely.

“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10 percent to 21 percent,” the survey finds. Moreover, “ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished: Today, 92 percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.”

Of course, some Americans remain near the political middle. However, the survey finds, “many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged.” Meanwhile, “the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.”

Americans appear increasingly likely to talk past each other—or simply to miscomprehend one another—instead of engaging in true debate.

“ ‘Ideological silos’ are now common on both the left and right,” the report says. “People with down-the-line ideological positions—especially conservatives—are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views. … And at a time of increasing gridlock on Capitol Hill, many on both the left and the right think the outcome of political negotiations between [President Barack] Obama and Republican leaders should be that their side gets more of what it wants.”

As a reporter covering Congress, I find that this notion of “ideological silos” comports with what I’ve seen in my years on Capitol Hill. I often talk with House members—Republicans and Democrats—who seem bewildered by the priorities or concerns of colleagues from the other party. My sense is that aides, relatives, and associates of a typical GOP lawmaker watch Fox News almost exclusively and listen to radio commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham when driving. Democrats’ offices and associates tune to MSNBC and read editorials from The New York Times, not The Wall Street Journal.

And the polarization extends far beyond Washington, with divisions that are not just about politics. “Those on the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum,” the survey finds, “disagree about everything from the type of community in which they prefer to live to the type of people they would welcome into their families.”

Three-quarters of “consistent conservatives” prefer communities where “the houses are larger and farther apart” and “stores and restaurants are several miles away.” And “the preferences of consistent liberals are almost the exact inverse,” the report says, “with 77 percent preferring the smaller house closer to amenities.” More than three times as many consistent liberals as consistent conservatives “rate proximity to museums and galleries as important.”

These intriguing findings help explain why Americans “selfgerrymander,” as some political scientists put it. Before partisan lawmakers even start drawing legislative district maps, millions of liberals have packed themselves into urban areas, and millions of conservatives have moved to rural and exurban regions.

“If people living in ‘deep red’ or ‘deep blue’ America feel like they inhabit distinctly different worlds,” the Pew survey concludes, “it is in part because they seek out different types of communities, both geographic and social.”

Congressional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution calls the survey “a gold mine of insights into how the sharp partisan polarization, so pronounced in Congress and among political elites, has penetrated the broader public.” That’s not to say that Mann and other experts agree with every conclusion. He and his frequent co-author, Norman Ornstein, contend that conservatives and Republicans play a substantially bigger role in partisan gridlock than do liberals and Democrats. They highlight nuggets from the report such as this: 82 percent of consistent liberals prefer leaders who compromise, while only 32 percent of consistent conservatives want leaders who compromise.

Commentators who blame polarization more equally on both sides, meanwhile, emphasize report findings such as this: “The share of Democrats who are liberal on all or most value dimensions has nearly doubled, from just 30 percent in 1994 to 56 percent today.” The share that is consistently liberal has quadrupled. Although the rightward shift of Republicans during those 20 years is less dramatic, the report says, “the GOP ideological shift over the past decade has matched, if not exceeded, the rate at which Democrats have become more liberal.”

Carroll Doherty, director of political research for the Pew Research Center, said it’s clear that Americans have become more firmly ideological on the left and right. However, he said, “partisan antipathy is more pronounced on the right.”

He says the overall findings are sobering. “The results may be more discouraging than we thought,” he says. “From how polarization manifests itself in our personal lives to its effects on policymaking to the way it shows up even in our political participation, the numbers are telling.”

To learn more, read the full report at polarization.


Charles Babington covers Congress and politics for the Associated Press. He has reported from Washington since 1987 and is a frequent panelist on PBS’s “Washington Week.”


OBESITY Is a Business Issue
Fall 2014
By Jessie Azrilian

Fall 2014

More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are obese or overweight, with 14 states reporting obesity rates above 30 percent. Now, consider how a population of unhealthy adults impacts businesses: increased health care premiums, decreased employee productivity, and increased absenteeism, to name a few consequences. If current trends continue, the obesity rate is predicted to rise above 50 percent in the next 15 years. A future workforce whose majority is overweight or obese is harmful to U.S. competitiveness and holds potentially debilitating long-term economic impacts.

A new report by the American Heart Association indicates Americans overestimate their own health: while 74 percent of the 2,000 surveyed employees reported being in good or very good health, in reality 42 percent had been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure. While this is a troubling snapshot of employee health, the findings also reflect important opportunities for business leaders to improve health outcomes in the workplace. Notably, the study highlighted the influence senior leadership has in driving employees to engage in workplace health programs.

Workplace and Community Wellness

A recent QuickPoll of ACCE’s membership asked chamber leaders to describe community and member concerns about the impact of employee health and childhood obesity on both the current and future workforce. From the 90 chamber executives surveyed, 93 percent rated their members as being either very concerned or slightly concerned about the impact of employee health on their businesses; 85 percent of chambers said their communities are concerned about preventing childhood obesity.

Chambers of commerce support both workforce and community wellness in several capacities, including convening members and serving as a health and wellness resource for businesses, and developing community-wide initiatives. The ACCE QuickPoll revealed that 65 percent of surveyed chambers promote corporate wellness programs now or plan to do so in the future. Examples of how chambers engage include: hosting events such as roundtables and conferences to promote corporate wellness plans to members; joining or forming communitywide partnerships to address wellness issues; leading regional initiatives through chamber wellness committees, councils or sub-committees; and including corporate wellness in chambers’ economic strategic plans.

Taking Action

The Meadowlands (N.J.) Chamber of Commerce’s Health & Wellness Committee focuses on activities that directly impact their members, such as producing an Annual Health & Wellness Guide with vital information to help members navigate healthcare insurance, health programs, safety compliance and wellness.

The Charlotte (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce seeks to impact the broader community through its health initiatives. The Healthy Charlotte Council, which is comprised of chamber members, seeks to help Charlotte achieve a top 10 ranking in the American Fitness Index within the next five years. The Council has set specific goals for Charlotte, including identifying key indicators of the fitness index and tracking status, establishing connectivity with pertinent organizations to drive community collaboration, and increasing the national reputation of Charlotte as a healthcare hub.

Childhood Health and Obesity Prevention

In addition to corporate wellness initiatives, 65 percent of surveyed chambers from ACCE’s QuickPoll also currently promote childhood wellness programs or plan to do so in the future. Examples of specific activities chambers noted include supporting childhood obesity prevention in a chamber’s legislative agenda; working with local governments to implement child care ordinances; and providing topical surveys, reports and communication briefs to members.

Focus on Health

The Traverse City (Mich.) Chamber of Commerce is connecting economic success to early childhood health and education through the Traverse Bay Great Start Collaborative. Great Start is Michigan’s early childhood initiative and prioritizes “health” as one of its five main focus areas. The farm-to-preschool initiative encourages early healthy eating habits by connecting local farms to home-based and center-based child care facilities to incorporate locally-grown fruits and vegetables into preschool meals and create age- and culturally-appropriate curricula for students and parents to learn to both deliver fruits and vegetables as well as to teach children where their food comes from.

As the relationship between workforce health and business productivity becomes more distinct, employers recognize how obesity-related illnesses affect profitability. Chambers of commerce have an important opportunity as facilitators to mediate the interests of business, the community at large, and policy makers to foster a culture of health.


Jessie Azrilian is director of ACCE’s Education Attainment Division, contact her at 703-998-3571 or via email at


Faces and Places
Fall 2014
By Several Authors

Fall 2014

Amanda Atchley has been named executive director of the Canton Area (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce She worked for five years for a non-profit organization developing programs, preparing budgets, and recruiting and supervising volunteers. She has also been involved in Canton Main Street as a board member, and has helped plan and promote events in the downtown area to encourage business growth and offer activities to the community.

St. Clair Area (Mo.) Chamber of Commerce’s Rebecca Blankenship, who was serving as a part-time assistant in the chamber office, was recently promoted to be the chamber’s executive director.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas (Texas) Chamber of Commerce selected Beth Bowman, the chamber’s former chief development officer and interim vice president of economic development, as its new president and CEO. She replaced Chris Wallace who left to become president of the Texas Association of Business.

This summer, the Lebanon Valley (Pa.) Chamber of Commerce named Gregory D. Buckler to be its new president and CEO. Buckler, who succeeds the recently retired Larry Bowman, was vice president of membership for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Hannah Caylor is the Dyersburg/Dyer County (Tenn.) Chamber’s new membership director. Prior to joining the chamber, she was a patient care coordinator.

Lynn Allen Cione, executive director of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce since 2008, has been named president of the Orange County (N.Y.) Chamber of Commerce. Cione will succeed Dr. John A. D’Ambrosio, who led the chamber for the past 33 years.

Elizabeth Cromwell is the new president and CEO of the Frederick County (Md.) Chamber of Commerce. Prior to joining the Chamber, Cromwell was director of corporate and community partnerships for Frederick County Public Libraries.

Eric Kranz was appointed executive director of the Dearborn County (Ill.) Chamber of Commerce. Kranz was previously with the Southeast Indiana Small Business Development Center where he provided consulting services for aspiring entrepreneurs and companies.

Lee R. Luff, CCE, CAE, president and CEO of the Anderson Area (S.C.) Chamber of Commerce, announced that he will retire Nov. 1 after 34 years of leading chambers in Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina. He has been voted by his peers as Chamber Executive of the Year in Ohio and South Carolina, and is past president of the Chamber of Commerce Executives of Ohio and the Carolinas Association of Chamber Executives (CACE). Under Luff ’s leadership, the Anderson Area Chamber received five-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Anderson Area Chamber was also named a finalist for “Chamber of the Year” by ACCE in 2012. In 2013 the Anderson Area Chamber was named South Carolina’s “Outstanding Chamber of the Year” by CACE. Luff served two terms on the Board of Directors of ACCE and chaired the Board of Regents for the U.S. Chamber Institute program at the University of Notre Dame.

The Rochester Area (Minn.) Chamber of Commerce named Rob Miller, former CEO and president of the Arizona Trade Exchange in Mesa, Ariz., to be its new president.

The Springfield Area (Mo.) Chamber of Commerce appointed Matt Morrow to be its new president and CEO. After serving as an aid for Missouri Senator John Ashcroft for several years, Morrow became CEO of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Springfield for 12 years before being named EVP and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders.

The Greater Greer (S.C.) Chamber of Commerce named Mark Owens as its new president and CEO. Owens, who previously served as the Greer Chamber’s vice president, replaced Allen Smith, who is now president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Heber Springs (Ark.) Area Chamber of Commerce has selected Julie Murray to be its new executive director. Most recently she worked for a consulting firm specializing in corporate training and ethics programs.

Linda Parsons was appointed president and CEO of the Moore County (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce. Parsons was serving as the chamber’s interim president and CEO following prior president Patrick Coughlin’s departure to lead the Cabarrus (N.C.) Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Jodie A. Perry, IOM, has been selected as the new president of the Richland Area (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce. Perry most recently served as president and CEO of the Greece, N.Y., Chamber of Commerce. She also served as vice president of the Greece Chamber Charitable Foundation and president of Greece Chamber Benefit Partners. Prior to joining the Greece Chamber, Perry led the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce and served on staff at the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce, both in Ohio. She also worked as the Deputy Chief Clerk for the US Senate Banking Committee.

The Napa (Calif.) Chamber of Commerce welcomed Travis Stanley as its new president and CEO. Stanley’s career includes 25 years working in public relations and marketing for the National Basketball Association, most recently with the Golden State Warriors, where he was senior executive vice president of marketing. Prior to that, he worked in public relations for the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic.

Stephanie Warren has accepted the position of Vice President of Membership & Business Services for the Wichita Metro (Kan.) Chamber of Commerce. She most recently served on the South Wichita YMCA Advisory Board and as an account executive for Entercom Radio Group.

William F. “Bill” Watson will lead the Cleveland County (N.C.) Chamber as its next president. Previously he worked in the corporate office of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. Watson follows Michael Chrisawn who retired as chamber president in March, after six years of service.

The Pasadena (Texas) Chamber of Commerce recently presented Cristina Burt Womack as its new president and CEO. Womack has served in 10 different chamber and non-profit organizations in the last decade. She comes to the chamber after seven years at Cbeyond, where she served in management and sales.

In Memoriam

Past ACCE Board Chairman Thomas M. Brownlee, CCE, passed away August 7 in Orlando, Fla. He was 87. A Life Member honoree of ACCE, he chaired the association in 1965-66.

“While he was a successful businessman in several fields, his real passion was always with and for the chamber in each of the six cities he worked,” said Brownlee’s son Thomas J. Brownlee of Orlando. Brownlee had a lengthy career as a chamber executive in Daytona Beach, Tampa, Tallahassee, Columbia, Winston-Salem, and Orlando.

In 1977, he was invited to the White House as a past president of ACCE to attend a meeting about the national energy crisis. In the following seven weeks, he wrote 2,500 chambers of commerce and organized Orlando’s first Metropolitan Energy Conservation Task Force. After reporting back to the White House, President Gerald Ford shook his hand and said with a smile “Mr. Brownlee, you should be in the energy conservation business yourself.”

Brownlee took the advice to heart. In 1977 he left his position as EVP of the Orlando Area Chamber to form a total energy management company, which later became Brownlee Lighting.

Always active in local, regional and national organizations, Brownlee was a natural for politics. He was elected Orlando City Commissioner from 1978-1982, and served as Orlando Mayor Pro-tem. He also served with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, eventually becoming its president in 1995-1996.

Toward an Envisioned Future
Fall 2014
By Mick Flemming

Fall 2014

Logic Steps: ACCE’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan


Chambers and the people who run them are experiencing revolutionary, not evolutionary, changes. Our predecessors coped with world wars, disease and the Great Depression, yet it seems today’s chamber leaders actually face more turbulence. But our inspiring history has shown that chambers can and must make the world a better place.

Pervasive, rapid change affects communities, economies, politics, demographics, services, business models and the very nature of belonging to a group such as a chamber of commerce. ACCE must adapt because its members must adapt. Our plan assumes that solid reliance on ACCE’s proven core will be balanced with new strategies to move our members toward an envisioned future.

In our Next Century, ACCE must prepare but remain nimble, solid yet fluid as we assist those serving and leading chambers. We will plan for resource requirements, but we must expect that resources will be reallocated to meet unknowable future demands. In short, our strategic plan must create the kind of organization that can handle whatever comes next, and at the same time try to shape what comes next.

Among the assumptions of our new strategic plan:

•   Economic and social improvements are created at the local or regional levels.

•   Regional prosperity can’t occur without business success.

•   Neither business nor community challenges can be overcome without collective action.

•   A high-functioning chamber of commerce can be the agent for that collective action.

•   Effective leadership and staffing is essential for chambers to attain peak performance.

•   Any profession will improve if served by an effective association.

•   ACCE exists to save the world—or at least to help chamber leaders create a better one.

We support chambers through four proven core competencies:

Network Connectivity—our subgroups and all the ways we create connections among members.

Information and Instruction—knowledge about the industry and its issues, plus context to help you apply the knowledge, from newsletters, our magazine, online data plus custom research from our reference librarians, seminars, webinars, and convention workshops.

Advice and Guidance—this is about building your capacity and confidence, through one-on-one counsel, by tapping partner organizations, and through Ask ACCE, our online helpdesk.

Inspiration and Vision—the role of the leader is to give meaning to the work. We’ll try to provide that leadership through meaningful recognition and promotion of excellence.

We can’t merely respond. We must also lead the way toward an envisioned future. That means challenging assumptions while we continue to support, taking more risks while maintaining your trust. Keeping our eye on the horizon while sharing the trenches with you.

For more information, visit second-century



Toward an Envisioned Future


At the end of my first year at ACCE, I had to draft a strategic plan for the organization, based on two board retreats, a hundred phone conversations and heavy sessions with an underappreciated staff.

I remember a long weekend in 2002, probably Memorial Day. My living room was knee deep in white easel pad pages, each a rainbow of Sharpie scratchings. After two days of attempted drafts I was getting nowhere and my frustration was beginning to show. I can ooze stress and anger without saying a single word, though I’m sure I was uttering a few choice ones that afternoon.

From stage right (spare bedroom/art room), enters the lovely, brilliant, long-suffering Barbara. She calmly wades into the cloud of paper and angst. She scans a few pages and picks off some of the more legible post-it notes. “What does all this mean?” I ask her.

She shakes her head as she slowly walks toward the kitchen. “Your problem is they want what they get from each other. Give them that.”

Brilliant! It changed everything. I built the 2002 plan around those words and we raised a million dollars to pay for the rejuvenation (some called it the “start-up”) of the new ACCE.

Four years later, I was at it again. At the first board planning session in Chicago, it took very little time for me to revert to form, whining: “It was easy to do a start-up plan. Now, we’re in good shape and people are happy with us. It’s harder to write a plan to keep advancing.”

Somehow the board suffered with me for another five hours. Once again, there was a moment of clarity. Steve Millard, CCE, of Cleveland filled a gap in the discussion with a powerful statement: “Based on what I’ve heard, we can’t be just about helping chambers run strong organizations. We have to help them achieve their mission. Their big mission, to make their communities get somewhere.” On that premise, we built plan No. 2, which launched our community advancement program focused on public policy, economic development and regional growth.

Then, in 2010, on a snowy March evening in Salt Lake City, Roy Williams, CCE, of Oklahoma City, came into the hotel bar following the board’s discussion of a new plan, which had been largely drafted by Tom Baldrige, CCE (now our chairman). Roy pulled me aside: “Your plan for a new electronic age at ACCE is powerful . . . it’s also fundable. We’re going to get you the money you need to do it.” They did. With financial support from 150 leaders and input from hundreds more, we built HERO and ACCE University.

These stories of individual influence on the direction of ACCE come to mind because we’ve just completed another critical planning cycle: A new plan to begin ACCE’s second century.

In many ways, the strategic lighthouse (I can’t call it a road map or blueprint) actually captures the enlightened moments described above. Based once again on the input of committed volunteers and open dialogue over most of a year, we’ve reached the conclusion that the strategies we embraced in the recent past are all . . . well, they’re right. The strategies in the new plan rely on developing and innovating in the core areas where we’ve already achieved a modicum of success.

We therefore used an infinity symbol to portray our plan to build on the “proven core” and work toward an “envisioned future.”

• The multi-dimensional networks born in 2002, which collectively have become ACCE, deserve our constant attention, but we must do more to help you build your own networks, whether intended for peer support or powerful coalitions.

• The 2006 emphasis on economic development, along with thoughtful policy formation, has the potential to enable members to achieve their big missions.

• The contemporary information and instruction platforms, still a work in progress since launching in 2011, as well as more creative and valuable content delivery, will continue to add more value to our members, if we avoid distraction and stay on it.

• And, the gifted staff we’ve assembled since 2001 can provide unparalleled advice and counsel, as well as inspiration, if we ensure that they have the resources they need.

Our new 2014-17 Strategic Plan identifies methods for, as the late Stephen Covey would say, “sharpening the saw.” Our four core competencies are network development, information/instruction, advice, and inspiration. They must be examined constantly to ensure that we keep up with—or stay ahead of—your fastchanging chamber world.

The planning task force vigorously expressed the belief that our organization won’t have a chance to stay out front if we don’t tell our story better. When we articulate our value more succinctly and clearly, it increases use of, and belief in, the services we provide. We must also do a better job aligning our resources. The good news is that we have some, but not enough to give us the luxury of inefficiency or bad decisions.

In the end though, the most revealing and powerful insight we gleaned from this year’s planning process was a clear understanding of ACCE’s purpose in this universe—our reason for being. On page 51, you can see the “logic steps” we followed to help us craft the “why” statement, which is full of loaded words and deliberate double entendre: ACCE’s purpose is “to support those who lead and work in chambers of commerce to create a better world.”


Mick Fleming is president of ACCE.


The Irrelevant Question Faced by Essential Organizations
Fall 2014
By Tom Baldrige, CCE

Fall 2014

Thanks for your support of ACCE and for the confidence you’ve placed in me to be your new chairman. It is due to the respect I have for all the front-line, chamber champions out there that I am truly honored. Together, with the support of the talented ACCE staff, a dedicated board and our bold new strategic plan, there is much to be done. Please help us move the ball.

In framing the year ahead, I reflect on ACCE’s Centennial Convention in Cincinnati and its content, energy and networking, all of which left me uber-optimistic about the role chambers play in their communities, regions and states. Adding to my excitement is the book The Magicians of Main Street, by ACCE’s Chris Mead, which details the historic impact chambers have had since before the founding of our nation. You can’t help but feel pride in our profession when you sense the enthusiasm from your peers and hear the stories of chambers making a difference.

Amazingly, despite the well-documented historical and current impact of entities like yours and mine, I still sense angst within chamber staffs and boards, as well as from outside critics, related to the so called “relevance” of chambers. It’s difficult enough to tackle ongoing challenges without also having to address perception and self-perceptions about the “chamber of commerce” as a viable institution for today.

Those who have worked with me, not to mention family and friends, know that I bristle at these doubts and insecurities, whether from inside or outside the profession. Respectfully, I ask that we stop thinking about our future in terms of relevance. Instead, I invite you all to use angst as inspiration to shape your envisioned future. Or, as ACCE President Mick Fleming said at a recent board meeting, “Build your real value and strive to become essential. Your relevance will take care of itself.”

Among the many centuries-proven lessons in Chris Mead’s book is this: If you shut your chamber’s doors tomorrow, it won’t be long before two local businesses start talking about working collectively to make a positive difference in your community, or improve their bottom lines. Others would join them to work for collective impact.

Heck, for many of you, rival chamber-like organizations arise without you closing your doors! The inspiration for business people to work together through a business-led, civiceconomic entity is timeless. That is as essential today as it was when ACCE was founded in 1914, but relevance is a fair topic to raise in communities where chambers resist change. The economy, society and policy environment are changing radically and quickly. We must stay ahead of, not be dragged along by, these changes.

One of the great things about being in the chamber business is that there is no chamber czar controlling a formal federation telling us what to do. It’s up to us, working with fiercely independent boards, unique economies and funky histories, to figure out what to.

Independent? Yes. Alone? No. ACCE is here to help us with the journey. Though I’ve tapped many of ACCE’s services, I certainly don’t know everything that’s available from the newly renamed Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, but every single time I ask for help from ACCE, on virtually any topic, I get it. Usually, the answers I get from ACCE come from the collective wisdom derived from all of you. When we share, benchmark and drive each other we will ensure the “essentialness” (and, yes, the relevance) of the chamber of commerce movement for another 200 years.

Thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me this year to learn and serve.


Tom Baldrige, CCE President and CEO Lancaster (Pa.) Chamber of Commerce & Industry ACCE Board Chairman, 2014-15


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