While the Jackson Chamber of Commerce may not be familiar to many, it has actually been around for years now. However, it fired out of the box at the beginning of this year, and the principals of the organization have big plans for the future.
When the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce changed its name to the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership and broadened its focus to areas outside the Jackson city limits, some members saw a void in representation of those individuals and entities doing business inside the Capital City’s borders. Thus, a group of Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership members, including Socrates Garrett, the Jackson Chamber’s past chairman, held an organizational retreat, and decided to form a group to fill the void.
The Chamber’s mission statement says it all: “The Jackson Chamber is a diverse group of small and large businesses dedicated to improving the quality of life in the City of Jackson, promoting diversity, and promoting a business climate that is favorable to economic and community development for the benefit to all its residents.”
The Jackson Chamber works in cooperation with the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, while at the same time operates with a large degree of autonomy. The Jackson Chamber has its own budget, which is an allocation from the Partnership’s budget. The Chamber also has its own board, but its bylaws stipulate that a certain number of its board members must also sit on the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership’s board.
According to the Jackson Chamber’s principals, some 70 percent to 80 percent of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership’s members are domiciled inside Jackson’s city limits.
“We’re a pretty big boy in the house,” Garrett said. “(The Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership) sponsors our initiatives and provides funds for our programs. But, we have autonomy in our decisions.”
Garrett represents a “senior” member of the group. Many of the Jackson Chamber’s officers, such as executive vice president Cynthia Buchanan, chairman David Pharr and incoming chairman Jonathan Lee, are all young professionals. However, all share the same passion and drive to ensure that those within Jackson’s boundaries are supported.
“We feel it is important that Jackson has an independent voice,” Lee said.
Pharr added, “We are not only looking to fill and advocacy void, but also provide basic chamber functions.”
For instance, Buchanan said the Jackson Chamber has focused heavily on business retention. Similar to what the Mississippi Development Authority is doing statewide, Buchanan said the Jackson Chamber, working in conjunction with the City of Jackson, Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP) and the Hinds County Economic Development District, is reaching out to existing businesses, finding how they are faring and working proactively to assist them before they reach a crisis point and are looking at closing.
The Jackson Chamber is also playing a prominent role in many Jackson initiatives. For instance, it is strongly supporting the feasibility study of the proposed downtown Jackson arena, the Jackson State University stadium and downtown incubator. It also played a role in landing and is supporting the upcoming feature on Jackson in Southwest Airline’s [ITAL]Spirit[ITAL] magazine.
In fact, the Jackson Chamber and the DJP, always partners, have recently strengthened their bond. The DJP Visioning Committee has merged with the Jackson Chamber, aligning the focus and efforts of those two groups.
Other efforts are lower profile but important to the group. The Jackson Chamber has “adopted” Lee Elementary School, supporting it with everything from guest speakers to donating furniture and equipment. It is also working closely with local law enforcement, looking to combat crime by supporting the men and women on the front lines of that battle.
The Jackson Chamber’s “signature” event is Red, White & Jackson. Held for the first time last July in Smith Park in downtown Jackson, the event was by all measures a big success, drawing approximately 1,000 participants. This year, the Chamber wanted to add a fireworks display, but Smith Park cannot accommodate that. So, the Chamber is expanding Red, White & Jackson to a two-day event. The get-together in Smith Park will be held July 2, and the fireworks show will be held July 3 at the recently renovated Old Capitol Museum.
The Jackson Chamber’s principals emphasize repeatedly that theirs is not an exclusive group. It plans on future growth, and accomplishing its mission, by being inclusive. It will take a team effort.
“We want to see Jackson reach its full potential,” Garrett said. “If we work together, we can get this done.”