Hattiesburg — The Area Development Partnership (ADP) wants new members and wants to retain existing members. To do so, they’re recruiting new members year round and created a new staff position, membership services director.
Richard C. Jones, ADP board chairman, has set a goal to increase the organization’s membership from 900 to 1,200.
“With the size community we have and the kind of community we have, that goal is attainable,” he said, “and I feel we’ll meet it.”
The ADP provides chamber of commerce and economic development services to the greater Hattiesburg area. Even though the ADP has an official membership drive each fall, Jones wants attracting new members to be a year-round effort.
“We might miss someone during the drive, but we’ll reach everyone this way,” he added. “This way we give all businesses the opportunity to join. We’re asking all members to make it possible.”
Butch Brown, owner of Parris Jewelers, has been a member for 23 years and heartily endorses the benefits of ADP membership. “It gives me the opportunity to network with people I don’t see in my store,” he said. “When I go to meetings and social events, I talk to people who own factories, food stores and other different kinds of businesses. I get input from them about marketing and the area economy.”
Through ADP, Brown feels he finds out about new businesses coming to the area, old ones leaving and the direction the city is going. He enjoys attending the legislative forums, First Friday networking breakfasts and business after-hours “meet and greets.”
“I attend as many as possible because it helps me by far make better business decisions,” he said. “I recommend it 100% if you’re going to have a viable business in this community.”
Emlyn Jackson, an employee for 11 years, is the new membership services director. In this position, her main focus will be membership retention by making members aware of ADP’s benefits.
“I think sometimes they forget after the initial excitement of signing up,” she said. “The main focus is showing businesses how they can grow.”
Some of those benefits include an insurance program, many networking opportunities, small business discounts, an annual trade show, ribbon cuttings, business guide listings and information services.
“Emlyn will still meet with new members and initial prospects like she’s been doing,” said Layla Essary, communications director. “She goes door to door to shake hands, recruit and welcome new members. She’s been beating the pavement.”
In addition to Jackson’s position, the ADP will hire someone for full-time recruitment, hopefully in March, Essary said.
However, Jones, who oversees membership and operations for the board, made the challenge to the community for everyone to come together and make membership everyone’s business. The staff has held two membership forums with positive feedback, Jackson said. “We want everyone to be involved. This is a wonderful community. Whenever we need volunteers, they’re here for us.”
A member for 10 years, he sees the ADP as a golden opportunity for members to promote their businesses, to be a part of the community, swap ideas, meet friends and colleagues and help promote the community.
“We’re asking each member of the Area Development Partnership to determine what the organization has meant to them and in turn communicate those benefits to their circles of influence,” said Dr. Angie Dvorak, ADP president. “The best business development plan is based on member to member testimonials.”
Brown, who’s been at Parris Jewelers 43 years, says the cost of membership is worth it because it’s an investment in his business. He finds the twice-yearly seminars especially helpful.
“Outside speakers are brought in, which is good for small businesses who can’t afford consultants like large companies have. This takes the place of that,” he said. “I’ve learned hiring rules, motivation techniques and other business practices.”
Emlyn Jackson says the ADP membership is 97% small businesses who can reap many benefits.
“We give lots of referrals to new residents – about 150 each month,” she said. “We’re helping create jobs and improving the quality of life.”
Two groups made up of members will join the existing Ambassadors who serve as hosts for the ADP. The new committees, the Navigators and Diplomats, will work on the retention side and kick off their duties March 1. Jackson said it was easy to get members to volunteer for the new committees.
“We have an awesome, dynamic base that a lot of communities would envy,” she said. “They’ve been through an intense orientation to learn their roles and what the area has to offer.”
The ADP provides chamber of commerce and economic development services to the greater Hattiesburg area, which includes Lamar, Forest and Perry counties along with the cities of Petal, Hattiesburg, Lumberton, Purvis and Sumrall. Essary says the community is growing in job numbers and as a diverse, broad base for business. The ADP is even using a new slogan called “Your Complete Package.”
“We’re learning it’s unique to have counties and cities coming together for a regional partnership like ours,” she said. “We get calls all the time asking us about it. Other places use us as a model.”
“We will service any of them for marketing,” Essary said. “The picture is already there, all they have to do is plug into it.”
Jackson says having multi cities and counties in the partnership means the ADP can show many more business and industrial sites to prospects.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.