By LISA MONTI
Ribbon cuttings are probably what come to mind when you hear a mention of Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors but the community volunteers provide many more valuable services to chambers and economic development agencies across the nation. In Mississippi, Ambassadors can be found from Oxford to the Coast.
They help with membership drives, welcome new businesses to the community and serve as chamber liaisons at networking and other events.
The success of the Ambassador programs has helped spread the idea from one chamber to another.
Heath Barret of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership said Realtor Melanie Mitchell helped found the Starkville Ambassadors in 2002 after she moved from Greenville. She and others thought Starkville would benefit by having a similar program, he said.
The new group even borrowed a fashion idea from Greenville, where Ambassadors wore red jackets. The Starkville Ambassadors wear maroon in keeping with the hometown Mississippi State University theme.
“People around town recognize them because they wear the maroon blazers to our events and ribbon cuttings and are also some of the faces of the GSDP to new and existing businesses,” Barret said.
The Ambassador programs in Starkville and elsewhere have similar guidelines. Members apply to join and are selected by the membership. There are regular meetings and functions to attend and members earn a quota of points for their participation at various events. All volunteer their time which makes them even more valuable to Chambers with limited budgets.
As GSDP director of membership development, Barret works closely with the group, which has 30 Ambassadors, and knows firsthand how important they are to the Chamber. “Starkville is fortunate to have each of them live and work here because they all bring so many different but unique things to the city and the business community,” he said. “I can say that it is a privilege and honor to work with each of them,” he said.
Starkville Ambassadors, like those at other Chambers, are a mix of community members from all age groups and backgrounds. “As a group I have retirees, retail, Realtors, bankers, insurance agents, lawyers, hotel managers, computer experts and mortgage lenders,” Barret said. “It’s all across the board and it’s great because they all get to go out and talk to different people about Starkville, the new businesses or existing businesses, a whole broad range of topics.”
Carolyn Jackson, a partner at WLZA -FM in Starkville, is a founding member and still serves as an Ambassador. “It’s a good group,” she said. “We get to meet an awful lot of people.” The activities help members become involved in their community, she said. “You know what’s going on and get to be part of it and help,” she said.
The Starkville Ambassadors meet monthly for lunch where they get updates from Barret on county business activities. The Ambassadors elect a slate of officers which changes yearly.
The Ambassador program in the City of Madison’s Chamber considers its Ambassadors their “goodwill arm” and the Chamber relies on them to greet new members, make goodwill calls and other functions to help get out information among Chamber members.
The goal is similar to other Ambassadors: to improve the business climate, economy and quality of life in the city.
Elizabeth Fulcher Bryant, executive director of the Madison the City Chamber of Commerce, said the Ambassadors are the “face” of the chamber.
“They volunteer above and beyond by helping us welcome new businesses into the chamber. They attend ribbon cuttings, invite people to our networking opportunities and assisting in our events,” she said. “Our ambassadors work hard at building relationships and supporting each other in their business endeavors. It is so exciting to watch the connections that are made and as a result the businesses that grow. As a chamber we strive to give back to our Ambassadors in the same way they give to us by using every opportunity that we can to recognize them and give them exposure.“
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