A conversation with Charlie Hartz
Chair, Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce
Why is the Aiken Chamber important to Aiken and its business community?
Aiken’s future as a desirable place to live, work and visit depends upon a dynamic, diversified, and growing economic base that complements the unique character of Aiken. I believe economic vitality is the primary means of supporting a quality of life that is distinctive to Aiken. The Chamber exists to create opportunities for members to build successful businesses and enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens.
Why should a small-business owner like yourself be a member of the Chamber of Commerce?
Knowing that the Chamber is working daily to make Aiken a vibrant community where my businesses can continue to grow and thrive is one of the main reasons I belong to the organization. Yes, I benefit from the relationships I have built and the networking opportunities provided by the Chamber, but in the long run it is about having a great community in which to do business.
The Aiken Chamber is known for focusing on the horizon. What does this mean?
Communities that are complacent do not compete and miss critical opportunities, lose jobs and tax revenues, fall behind in infrastructure and public services, and diminish quality of life. For all of it’s many virtues, Aiken cannot afford to be complacent. Aiken must be a competitive community and this requires looking forward with intention and bringing folks together to put plans into action.
How is the Aiken Chamber growing an economic base that complements the character of our community?
In 2013 the Chamber began working on a 5-year plan based on the recommendations from a group of strategic thinkers, the Blue Ribbon Panel. We are half way throught that plan now and the board has recently revisited the plan to look at the progress being made on those recommendations.
What are some areas of accomplishment the Chamber has seen since the beginning of this 5-year plan?
I believe the Chamber has reawakened and re-engaged the community about the needs necessary for business growth and job creation. The Chamber has worked diligently to raise awareness that business climate is the #1 factor of a successful community and drives the quality of life for a community. The Chamber’s Aspirational Cities Trip in the fall of 2015 was a catalyst for many of the collaborations and initiatives currently occurring in our community.
Can you expand on the ideas that have stemmed from the Aspirational Cities Tour?
It amazes me how impactful this trip was on the community. It has inspired a community visioning process and the hiring of an economic vitality manager. The value of bike lanes, trails and public art are topics of conversations. Groups are being formed to focus on attracting families with children to the area and Aiken has entered the Main Street program. The Chamber has kept the momentum of the trip going by bringing in speakers heard on the trip to address attendees at First Friday Means Busines.
What are some of the recommendations that are currently being worked on?
The Chamber will continue to work to advance the entreprenerial ecosystem in the community through the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and through new intitiatives that are being explored. As the city develops the new comprehensive plan the Aiken Chamber will be providing input to make sure the plan allows businesses to grow and thrive and unintended consequences are avoided. The Chamber will work closely with the Aiken County Public Schools to develop relationships with area businesses to encourage the growth of apprenticeship programs in our area.
The Chamber is seen as the “voice of business.” How will these goals and initiatives help the business community?
At the Chamber, we take our role as the “voice of business” very seriously and that includes listening to the challenges and issues facing our business community. Each of our goals and initiatives is guided by these overarching principles:
- - Allow businesses to grow and thrive
- - Free businesses from excessive taxes, unnecessary regulations and onerous local government processes
- - Help educate, cultivate, and equip the next generation of young entrepreneurs and the workforce of the future
Why is now the right time for your leadership?
We are 18 months away from celebrating the Chamber’s centennial and it is an exciting time to be the Chamber Chair. I look forward to continuing to work on the economic vitality initiatives of the Chamber and expanding opportunities for its members and the community at large.