The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 19, 2013

Seeking a better mouse trap

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— Reaction to a suggestion here a few weeks back that several Valley chambers of commerce might coalesce for the good of their members and their communities has been whelming. Not over or under, just whelming.  

Some saw potential in the notion of strength through unity. Others were content with the way things are. A few want to have detailed instructions of how it would work to their advantage with assurances that they won’t in any way be inconvenienced, surprised or disappointed in the outcome.

We’ll put them down as undecided.

I am not a chamber of commerce insider, nor am I a chamber builder. I have been an active member or board member of a half dozen in various locations because chambers represent an avenue of accessibility for and to people who create or manage newspapers.

So when someone asked me to describe a different arrangement of the Valley’s several business organizations in detail, I was clearly unprepared and ill-suited to answer.

However . . .

I have been told by those who know (and have verified through visual survey and calculation of average annual dues) that a significant percentage of organizations belonging to our chambers of commerce are smaller businesses.

In return for their dues, small businesses may receive some membership discounts, participate in networking events and marketing opportunities and magnify their voice in public affairs when easy consensus is possible.

A regional approach could enhance all those benefits.

There is yet another need, not being fully met, where the chamber reorganization could play a pivotal role.

Small businesses need, most of all, solid information, guidance and professional development that will enhance efficiency, planning and growth.

A bigger, reconstituted Valley business organization could develop and offer communications and connectivity to deliver invaluable learning resources to small businesses at a time, place and price suited to their needs and demands.

Doing business in today’s environment means learning how to deal with risk, safety, human resources, required record keeping and reporting and an evolving array of tools and applications that improve productivity through technology. There is a range of instruction for continued professional development available through online learning companies.

Modern workers and competitive companies regularly access video instruction for professional applications that expand skills sets, improve productivity and sustain competitive viability.

Technology is a necessary tool just to keep up with technology.

When some of our folks embraced iPads and tablets for mobile office work and constant connectivity several months ago, we knew exactly which learning site would give us the clearest, quickest route to operational efficiency.

A modern chamber of commerce could develop a library of learning resources and expertise for guiding members through the maze of knowledge and instruction to the best specific applications and online courses for their needs.

The chamber might even keep and supply tools and training to help the businesses enter the learning process (powerful, inexpensive, refurbished laptops, for example, that chamber members could borrow for specific periods).

Our valley communities have a wealth of possibilities that could contribute to a business center for professional development. We have three fine colleges, vocational schools, excellent libraries, a (diminishing) range of state and federal job development grants.

These needs and abilities are mirrored a thousand times across this great country where small communities and factory towns have been hollowed out by global treaties, competition and connectivity. American invention, ingenuity and innovation have been outsourced to cheaper labor pools in foreign lands. We are being left behind.

A thoughtful vision — of a regional, member-supported organization that identifies and supplies connectivity and effective learning tools for business – might be a prototype or pilot program for reinvigorating rural economies on the familiar foundation of community cohesion.

The need for knowledge is a constant in today’s changing business world. A technologically advanced regional chamber dedicated to helping small business access, acquire, share and employ critical professional knowledge would be offering services suited to the times and tailored to members’ needs.

This focus and these services could be developed independently by the scattered smaller business organizations. Here again, the pooling of these efforts would not create just a bigger pool, but a better one.