Maybe it’s time for the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce to hang it up, at least in name.
In a letter to the editor of The Holly Express from June, 2010, Chamber President Sandra Kleven took time to provide explanations and excuses as to why the Chamber of Commerce does not provide financial or organizational support to the Carry Nation festival or the Dickens festival as they once did.
In this letter and in subsequent comments, Mrs. Kleven made the point that the Chamber of Commerce is a struggling, volunteer-led organization without paid staff or extensive financial or human resources. That fact can’t really be argued, and should certainly be understood by anyone. The Chamber’s organizational challenges are certainly unfortunate.
And so, in the past year, in light of the challenges the Chamber has faced, numerous individuals and organizations have stepped up to the plate and assumed the roles and responsibilities that a traditional Chamber of Commerce would normally do.
One common role of a Chamber of Commerce is to promote community and economic development. During her tenure as the director of Main Street Holly, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), Hope Ponsart has welcomed more than a dozen new businesses to the Holly area, and has begun work on aggressive marketing strategies for the entire Holly commercial sector. Ms. Ponsart is definitely experiencing a shortage of red ribbon for cutting these days.
Another common role of a Chamber of Commerce is to offer its members services in terms of business development. The Holly Area Economic Development Task Force (EDTF) stepped up to the plate in this area. The EDTF spearheaded empirical research to offer as a resource for both existing and prospective businesses, as well as doing the yeoman’s work in planning, promoting and paying to host seminars on business communications last summer
Both the DDA and the EDTF have also taken active roles in lobbying for the business community in Holly, much as a Chamber of Commerce would do. The DDA and EDTF have both advocated pro-business stances on water/sewer rates, liquor laws and ordinances, street closures and public events.
Bringing visitors to an area to shop in town and perhaps eventually invest in the community is one of the benefits of festivals, fairs or other big public events, especially those events that identify and brand a community. Festivals need an organization behind it to pay expenses and provide accounting, purchase liability and property insurance, and generally plan the event. There’s a reason that these jobs frequently fall upon the local Chamber of Commerce.
In Holly, the Carry Nation festival and the Dickens Old Fashioned Christmas festival were once both supported by the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce, but are no longer. Unfortunately, the Carry Nation festival, without that critical supporting organization, is currently defunct, and the Dickens festival almost befell the same fate. Almost, that is, until local businessman John LaCroix joined with the Dickens festival volunteers to establish an independent non-profit corporation bent on reviving the Dickens festival. Revive it, they will!
And while Chambers of Commerce are usually expected to coordinate the energy of local businesses, Holly is fortunate to have business owners and individuals who work together and coordinate themselves. When the Chamber of Commerce was not interested in partnering with the Blackthorn Pub to provide high-quality libations for Sights, Sounds and Taste of Holly, the pub’s owners partnered with local activists who saw the void left by the absence of Carry Nation and are staging their own gathering in celebration of Patriot Week.
Chambers of Commerce are staples in every American community and a cornerstone in our economic culture, which is why no matter how active or inactive a chamber is, they enjoy considerable psychological power and prestige. If it is a strong and active Chamber, anything is possible. If it is a passive, narrow or inept Chamber, it’s like a wet blanket on a candle.
There is an energy building in Holly, and that energy is growing because dedicated and active citizens, organizations and businesses have decided to take the reins of economic and business development, festival and promotional planning, community marketing and branding, and advocacy and lobbying—the traditional roles of a Chamber of Commerce. These groups and businesses don’t turn down offers to cooperate or put their own self-interest first; their collaboration multiplies the growth of commerce and business in Holly, which helps everyone down the road.
And if these people and groups are handling these roles, and succeeding at them, then doesn’t that beg the question as to whether the Chamber of Commerce serves a purpose in Holly? If so, what exactly is that purpose?
In the past year, Holly has seen a nearly compete turnover in leadership, and with that has come new perspectives, new approaches, new visions for the future. The last remaining institution in the cycle of change is the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce. If the challenges the Chamber faces are too large, or there is not the willingness to work towards and assume the expected roles of a traditional Chamber of Commerce, then perhaps it’s time to relinquish its psychological position in our community as “the Chamber.” Maybe even a simple renaming to the “Holly Business Networking Club” would be better, and more accurately portray its mission and purpose.
Every other institution in Holly has changed the status quo. Now it’s time for the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce to take its turn.