Even though the Tri-County Council of Chambers has gotten off to a sluggish start, its leaders are making up for lost time.
Duane O’Neill, executive director of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, said the Tri-County Council of Chambers, consisting of the chambers of commerce representatives from Canton, Clinton, Metro Jackson, Madison County, Madison “The City,” Pearl, Rankin County, Raymond, Ridgeland, and, on a limited basis, Flora, was formed about a year after the Metro Economic Development Alliance was established — about five years ago.
“MEDA was developed to market the metro area as a team,” he said. “The Tri-County Council of Chambers was established as a communicative group, making sure we knew what was going on and looking for ways to work together on major projects. MEDA was formed by an emergency situation about critical issues relating to how we handle economic development and was immediately successful. The Tri-County Council of Chambers was formed to build relationships and has taken a little longer to get off the ground.”
The council started out with smaller projects, such as designing brochures about its mission for the business community titled, “Triple Your Pleasure.” Last year, council members began meeting at different chambers to provide more helpful information to callers than simply doling out phone numbers.
On March 1, more than 60 people attended the council’s first statewide chamber conference, “Fishing for Ideas,” held in Jackson for $25 per person. Sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, with meeting space provided by Entergy, attendees seemed “very impressed” with the programs, said Rosie Vassallo, council president and executive director of the Madison “The City” Chamber of Commerce. Council leaders rotate annually.
“Jim Cherry, executive director of the Bay Cities Chamber of Commerce in Panama City, Fla., spoke about different ideas chambers could work on together and what they need to focus on,” she said. “(Madison County Chamber of Commerce executive director) Dianne Dyar talked about how to celebrate within the chamber, (MetroJackson chamber representative) Spring Heflin gave us various ways to communicate with chamber members, (Clinton Chamber of Commerce executive director) Dianne Newman spoke about utilizing a chamber directory as a fund-raiser, and I talked about ideas for improvement with ambassador programs. We had a very positive conference, with very positive comments.”
Working together allowed individual chambers in the tri-county area to rally support for the MetroJackson chamber’s legislative agenda, which has a larger staff than traditional chambers’ one- or two-person offices, Vassallo said.
“The council limits its focus to primary chamber functions, not tri-county area issues,” she said. “When individual chambers attract members, it’s for different reasons. Madison is more family-oriented, which is totally different from Ridgeland, which has more businesses. Canton is the movie mecca of the area. Regardless of our differences, our main purpose is to work in harmony and not duplicate so many programs and events that are already ongoing. Our No. 1 priority is to help the state that we love so much.”
On April 20, the council will host Business After Hours, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Armstrong Relocation in Madison. The event is co-sponsored by SunCom and Susan Burton Real Estate in Madison.
“This is Armstrong’s eighth year to sponsor the annual fish fry,” Vassallo said. “The number of chambers participating has grown throughout those years from Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties. Armstrong is a member of all chambers and deserves recognition.”
On Tuesday, June 13, the Tri-County Council of Chambers will host “Prospecting in the P.M.” at the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. The unique advertising, promotion and networking event will focus on providing small business owners in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties with 50 or fewer employees a venue to exhibit their products and/or services in a trade show atmosphere. Interested parties are encouraged to sign up early.
“The idea for the small business expo came from the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce that wanted to enlarge their annual event,” said Vassallo. “We thought it would be less expensive for our small business owner members and give them broader exposure.”
At the expo, participating small business owners will pay $100 per table on a first-come, first-serve basis. To ensure that all display booths are visited, each attendee will be given a card upon entry that reflects booth layouts. As each exhibit is visited, cards will be stamped and a prize will be given to attendees. Completed cards will go into a drawing for a shopping spree donated by vendors.
“If this business expo is successful, the hours will be extended and seminars will be added next year,” said Mark Bounds, chair of Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s business and industry committee. “The feedback from small business owners has been very, very positive.”
The council is making strides, but “has a ways to go yet,” said O’Neill.
“From the beginning, MEDA had a chief staff person and a chief volunteer person,” said O’Neill. The council is more staff-driven. With volunteers, it could be even more successful.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.