The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 5, 2013

Something to boost about

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— The voice of business in the Valley is somewhat becalmed by sudden and recent resignations of two presidents and CEOs, leaving members and directors to chart a course forward with new faces — or a new face — on the bridge.

Charlie Ross exited the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber in Shamokin Dam in June. Maria Culp took her leave of the Central Pennsylvania Chamber in Milton this week.

Despite what you hear and read about the media’s liberal inclinations, newspapers have traditionally worked closely with business organizations.

Established businesses, including newspapers, gravitate toward stability and predictability because it is smoother and more profitable to operate in an environment over which you can exert some control.

That is why, when it comes to political endorsements, a great majority of newspaper publishers favor the candidate least likely to upset the apple cart, to the chagrin of those knocking on the doors of power for greater opportunity and who count upon media to amplify voices of the un-included.

Newspapers are in the business of chronicling change, which, inside the chambers, makes them a club member of a different sort — not quite trustworthy with the secrets of the kingdom until they have proven themselves capable of or complicit in some form of information suppression.

That may be a touch melodramatic, but the tension is palpable and ubiquitous.

An editor at the Palm Beach, Florida, newspaper who was unusually sensitive to this concern, kept an empty frame on the wall of his office. When visitors asked about it, he would explain that it was waiting for a photo of the first business to shy away from or be driven out of the market by a news story.

The editor was a smart fellow running a big newspaper, so he was missing the point on purpose.

Chambers of Commerce exist to emphasize the positive — to boost a community’s assets and attractiveness as a partner in trade and commerce. The tone projected, not necessarily the facts being reported, by local media, affect that mission. Big headlines about small crimes or cranky people are not with the program.

As editor at a previous newspaper, I was asked by business organizations to meet with people prospecting on behalf of employers looking for new locations and offer a driving tour of the market.

In Orange County, New York, two chambers of commerce had staked out territory in eastern and western parts of the county. A collegial rivalry between the organizations, which may have been initially energizing, was devolving into a less healthy division of loyalties.

You may have seen this happen, where members of one club or another adopt a kind of bunker mentality and start to unify themselves around a notion of who they are not rather than a focus on who they are and who they want to become.

The newspaper, which covered both regions, supported something called the Orange County Partnership, which focused on attracting employers to the location, known locally as the mid Hudson Valley.

Economic development professionals work with commercial real estate brokers, developers, site selection firms and regional and state agencies to find the most advantageous and cost-effective locations to attract new corporations or expand local businesses.

Our chambers of commerce — which have affiliations with industrial parks, government agencies, and public utilities and serve an array of members who would thrive in a healthier local economy — may have a propitious moment at hand.

Community boosterism is an aspect of economic development. Member support and service establish a solid foundation. But the future lies in job development.

We have not been lucky and successful in recent years at attracting employers to some tenant-ready industrial sites. Right now, we seem to be employing more people in scattered roles associated with job development than we are in the jobs being developed, which is not very businesslike.

As these two fine organizations — the Greater Susquehanna Valley and the Central Pennsylvania chambers — ponder their road ahead, it seems useful to examine whether closer cooperation or complete unification will better accomplish the work that needs to be done.

n Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Danville News and The Daily Item.