“I thank our 1,900 Chamber member businesses, who represent more than 85,000 area employees. Were grateful for our many volunteers, our board members and our Chamber staff.”
An audience of nearly 1,000 waits with anticipation at Nashville's Music City Center on a sweltering Tuesday evening in August.
Pearl earrings and silver tie clips sparkle as all attention centers on the well-lit stage at the front of the otherwise dark room.
A moment of silence, an announcement, followed by cheers and congratulatory claps. This pattern repeats all evening.
Then: "The final Chamber of the Year award this evening in category four. The 2017 Chamber of the Year: Chattanooga."
Once again the crowd erupts with applause, this time a little louder.
More than 15 Chattanooga Chamber staff members swarm the stage to accept the award, a turnout triple that of other chamber recipients in attendance (guess that's what happens when you're up for an international award and your home base is a two-hour drive from the ceremony).
Chamber of the Year is a prestigious award given annually to chambers in four size categories. The award recognizes chambers that excel in operations, member services and community leadership. Our chamber is classified under category four – the largest. Categories are based on a handful of criteria, such as population, number of businesses, total revenue and current number of members. Since 2007, the Virginia-based Association for Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) has recognized chambers of commerce for their work in fostering businesses and fueling economic growth with an accolade that serves as the nation’s only annual award recognizing the leadership role chambers have in their communities.
Our members own the title of 2017 Chamber of the Year.
"I thank our 1,900 Chamber member businesses, who represent more than 85,000 area employees. We're grateful for our many volunteers, our board members and our Chamber staff," says Bill Kilbride, Chattanooga Chamber President & CEO.
"We were recognized in particular for our leading role in the Chattanooga 2.0 education and workforce readiness initiatives in Hamilton County, our creation of the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership, the continuation of the Thrive 2055 initiative, and the work of our 12 area Councils to support our Chamber mission and goals. We're also honored to see our professional excellence in membership marketing and communications recognized. We're justifiably proud of our Chamber and our business community."
Beyond Chamber of the Year, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives awarded the Chattanooga Chamber five awards for excellence in sales, membership and communications, including a new award created specifically to honor our "Literally Perfect" campaign, which aims to recruit talent to the Chattanooga area.
This year has been a big one for the Chattanooga Chamber and our members.
Peer recognition for a year of innovation, initiatives and results is gratifying for our staff, but the real recognition belongs to our community. Winning Chamber of the Year is a reflection of the members and hard-working business community that support the Chamber's mission. In short: a return on investment.
The Chamber's nearly 2,000 members, 12 area Chamber Councils, regional planning and workforce readiness initiatives are what brought home the gold – or crystal, in this case. Without these elements, achieving this international accolade would not have been possible.
You should already know that without you, the Chattanooga Chamber would not be the Chamber of the Year. We want to thank you.
With 1,900 members, who represent more than 85,000 employees, it's no surprise that membership is our backbone, and the driving force behind our progress.
This year, executive membership saw an uptick of 70 percent, allowing us to grow and provide more robust services to existing members while pursuing new partnerships. What's more – with a 100 percent retention rate, these sales reflect lifetime membership.
The Chattanooga Chamber would be unable to support our area's economic growth in all areas of the community without its 12 Councils. These Councils, led by 160 volunteer board members, represent 150 community businesses and work to improve business, civic conditions and quality of life within their footprints. Last year, Councils invested more than $17,000 into the community.
While Councils are a part of the Chamber, each acts independently within its geographic area – a unique structure that works.
"Having an ecosystem of small area councils, with their own members, raises eyebrows," says David Steele, Vice President of Policy and Education, Chattanooga Chamber. "This model allows Councils to connect with members in their specific footprints to work on the issues specific to their area. It's a different system that avoids having multiple chambers competing for membership from the same businesses."
Aside from winning major awards, connecting our members is one way we give back.
Take an annual event like the DIVERSIFY marketplace, which featured 111 small and diverse businesses. DIVERSIFY is one of many major events and networking opportunities where members of the chamber and our community can grow business relationships.
"A diverse business community is the focus of many chambers," says Bill Kilbride, President & CEO, Chattanooga Chamber. "For us, it's table stakes. We are looking for ways to connect diverse and minority-owned businesses with the resources and partnerships they need."
One element of the ACCE's Chamber of the Year selection process is an in-depth interview. It's in this interview that Kilbride and Steele showcased our community's efforts, putting our work into real-life context.
In the interview, Kilbride and Steele stressed our Chamber's connections, discussing how the authenticity of our work plays into sustainable programming.
"We spent a lot of time talking about how our program of work aligns with the needs of our members and our community," Steele says.
Talent attraction, development and retention were pillars of the interview. Against that backdrop, Kilbride and Steele spent the largest portion of the interview talking about how the Chamber and its members engage in initiatives to enhance the alignment between the systems and institutions that produce talent and the systems and organizations that will employ that talent.
Regional economic growth remains central to the Chattanooga Chamber's mission. The Chamber focuses on establishing programs that reach beyond Chattanooga's city limits and into the 16-county region that surrounds it.
The Thrive Regional Partnership, a strategic planning initiative that grew out of Thrive 2055, seeks to enact a 40-year vision within our region. The Thriving Communities project produced a regional network of local leaders who invested $1.8 million towards community vibrancy.
The recent launch of the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership (GCEP), and the accompanying website, lend testament to our dedication to regional planning. This year, GCEP, an outgrowth of the Thrive 2055 planning effort, marketed the region for new investment and job creation opportunities, and saw $500 million in new facilities and 750 new job positions filled.
Workforce Development through Education Initiatives
The Chattanooga Chamber knows that bolstering education initiatives can give students the experience and resources needed to strengthen the cradle-to-career pipeline.
Initiatives put into place by the Chamber and 2,300 volunteers from more than 200 companies helped more than 13,000 students build workforce skills this year alone.
Chamber-supported initiative Chattanooga 2.0's goal is to reach 75 percent postsecondary educational attainment by 2025. Chattanooga 2.0 established 10 strategies to bring this goal to fruition.
Other programs, such as Gestamp's school-to-work model, Chattanooga State Community College's Polytechnic Academy and Volkswagen's Mechatronics Akademie, provide strong workforce development initiatives.
Improving workforce and economic development for our future requires an intense focus on education today.
What does all of this mean for you, our member? Beyond yet another opportunity to take pride in your city, it's proof that our members' hard work making our community a better place pays off.
Yours truly, the best Chamber ever.