Chamber issues comprehensive mid-year report

A Chamber is generally known by how well goals are accomplished in the areas of Leadership & Impact, Economic Opportunity and Market Growth, Regional Advocacy and Community Focus, and Fiscal Integrity and Operations.

1.  Leadership and Impact

The Chamber incorporates the resources and talents of a diverse Board of Directors, dedicated volunteers, the President/CEO, and a motivated professional staff, which ensure a maximum, positive impact for members and the community at large.

• Actively participating in the MIDSTATE Chambers Coalition, which represents 19 chambers of commerce in the midsection of SC and serves as a unified body to promote issues important to the growth and development of communities in the MIDSTATE region.   During the first six months of 2012, the coalition:

o held a Legislators Luncheon to present the organization’s 2012 legislative initiatives to members of the SC Senate and House of Representatives
o toured the Port of Charleston to better understand the port’s importance to the mid-state region

• Coordinated a comprehensive feasibility study for a multi-use international horse park in Aiken County.  The study is being conducted by the Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development from the USC College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sports Management. It will include, among several factions, focus groups with those who have equestrian interests as well as input from community leaders and local citizens. The study is slated for completion later this summer.

• In February, the State Infrastructure Bank Board awarded the City of Aiken up to $13.5 million in funding for road improvements.  The announcement culminated six years of collaborative effort by the Chamber with the City of Aiken and Aiken County to secure funding.  The Chamber’s efforts included:

o hosting meetings with the local legislative delegation
o inviting members of the SC Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to visit Aiken and tour problem areas
o hosting a gathering in association with SCDOT’s board meeting in Aiken, encouraging the city and county to set aside Local Option Sales Tax money for transportation projects, and
o encouraging the completion of a State Infrastructure Bank application for funding.

• Provided input on the City of Aiken’s draft Open Space Element.  The Chamber’s suggestions included its concern of establishing a separate Open Space Commission that would report directly to City Council and not a committee reporting to the Planning Commission.  Chamber leadership attended the First Reading on the draft Open Space Element before City Council on February 27; Council voted to send the document back to the Planning Commission for further work.

• Named the Chamber’s new conference room the “Bridgestone Leadership Room” in recognition of Bridgestone’s $1.2 billion investment in a new off-road radial tire plant.  The capital investment is the largest one ever for the state of South Carolina.  The naming is in effect for 885 days to recognize the 885 new jobs  the new plant, along with expansion at the current plant, will create. 

• In the first six months of 2012, 47 professionals in various fields shared their expertise and delivered timely, innovative, and powerful information to Chamber members.

• The Chamber Ambassador Program continues to grow and play a vital role in the Chamber’s success.  The 2012 team is comprised of 48 volunteers who provide services that support membership retention and growth.

2.  Economic Opportunity and Market Growth

The Chamber enhances and leverages the talents and resources of its members to improve economic opportunities for all.

• Continuing to promote “Shop Aiken” through print ads in the Aiken Standard and the monthly Commerce Report, as well as through radio spots on WKSX-FM 92.7.  The ad reminds everyone to Shop Aiken for gifts, services and dining.

• Extended business-to-business opportunities for members through Business After Hours, an informal environment affording power networking opportunities.  Six Business After Hours have been held with more than 1,044 business people attending since January.

• Convened member businesses and organizations with similar interests, opportunities and challenges by hosting the following roundtables:

 Goodwill and small business owners to discuss workforce needs as they relate to Goodwill’s clients
 Food service businesses and SCORE to discuss opportunities and challenges

• Provided business connections with ribbon cuttings and grand openings recognizing 18 new or expanding businesses.
 

• 49 member businesses participated in the Mini Trade Show, held in conjunction with the Chamber’s Membership Appreciation Luncheon on May 18.  More than 336 members attended the AllStar event.

• 107 business professionals benefited from business-to-business networking during the Chamber’s 8th Annual PARSONS Spring Golf Classic.

• Planned and executed six 3rd Thursday events for the Aiken Young Professionals to give them an opportunity to meet for networking and sharing of information.  To date, total attendance is 417.

• Produced the 2012 edition of Welcome Aiken that features the business directory of Chamber members along with their goods and services. The annual publication is full of useful community information for visitors, current residents, and those looking to relocate to the area.
 

3.  Regional Advocacy and Community Focus

The Chamber advocates on behalf of its broad and diverse member businesses, creating a climate of growth and success that benefits all.  The Chamber helps to strengthen our community through leadership in top business, civic, education, and social priorities.

• The Chamber’s Equine Support Council collaborated with Aiken County Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT), and the Aiken Land Conservancy (ALC) to establish the Greater Aiken Integrated Trails (GAIT) Foundation. The role of GAIT is to support a countywide integrated trail system and other recreational endeavors in Aiken County.  Chamber President J. David Jameson is the founding chair of GAIT.

• The Aiken Chamber participated in the annual trip to Washington DC to advocate on issues of importance to the region.  Forty-one business, civic, government, and education leaders from the CSRA went on the trip.  The CSRA Leadership Group is a joint initiative of the Greater Aiken Chamber, the Augusta Metro Chamber, the Columbia County Chamber, and the North Augusta Chamber. Some of the issues addressed with U.S. senators and representatives and key department heads with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Pentagon.

o The Savannah River Site status and concerns, including H Canyon, Yucca Mountain, new missions, and funding
o Fort Gordon
o New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam

• A member of the Chamber’s professional staff regularly attends Aiken City and County governmental meetings and keeps the Chamber leadership informed on impending issues/ordinances that impact business.

• The Aiken Young Professionals’ current membership is 216. The group has completed the following:

o hosted two “5th Friday . . . Your Friends, Your Family, Your City!” events.  The free community event was held downtown on March 30 and June 29
o held two Lunch & Learns – one on legal documents young professionals should have in place and one on the history of Green Boundary.

• Recognized and honored the Woman and Man of the Year, as well as the Large and Small Business of the Year, at the Chamber’s 94th Annual Dinner.

• Continuing to provide quarterly cost-of-living data to a national database to ensure that the demographics of the CSRA are accurately represented.  This information has helped to meet the criteria necessary for Aiken to be designated as a top retirement community. The Chamber provides the data online for free at www.aikenchamber.net.

4. Business Training and Education

The Chamber provides opportunities for members to sharpen their skills and secure a competitive edge while staying abreast of current trends and events that can affect their bottom line.

• Held a Spring Business Academy, “Disaster Recovery – Will Your Plan Keep You in Business?” to help businesses properly plan and prepare for disaster situations.  Professionals from local businesses shared their expertise and provided checklists and sample plans to help businesses prepare their own disaster plans.

• Held a Women in Business luncheon entitled “Women, Wellness and Business:  Achieving a Winning Balance,” designed to provide the information and tools necessary to attain a perfect balance in all aspects of career and personal life. A total of 85 Chamber members attended the seminar.

• First Friday Means Business continues to attract area businesses for networking and learning.  On average, 168 people attend the monthly event.  With timely business topics and up-to-date information, featuring City Talk, County Talk, and Chamber Talk, the monthly breakfast meetings keep the membership well informed on important topics.

• Supported small business growth through partnership with SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Business), which provides consultation to new and established businesses.  SCORE has 26 counselors who offer one-on-one counseling and workshops on various aspects of starting/owning a small business. The local chapter has completed 255 consults and held 32 workshops.

5.  Fiscal Integrity and Operations

The Chamber is steadfast in maintaining operations and in developing the membership base to maximize fiscal integrity and to ensure a sound, well run organization.

• The Chamber reports a 5 percent net growth in membership from May 31, 2011 to May 31, 2012. Members continue to participate in timely programs and events and to verify the Chamber’s value to them through their annual membership renewals.

• The Board of Directors received a clean and unqualified opinion on the 2011 audit, and we continue to provide audit quality books to our auditors.

On the Horizon

The Chamber is currently planning the following upcoming events for the third quarter:

• 6th annual “State of Our Community” Luncheon to be held August 29, noon to 2 PM, at the USCA Convocation Center
• 36th annual Aiken’s Makin’ to be held Friday and Saturday, September 7 and 8.
• 24th Annual Industry Golf Tournament set for September 24 to recognize local industry for the jobs they create and for their investment in the community

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