The Changing Chamber Model
Arguably for the first 75 years of our Chamber's existence, the great majority of the work of the Chamber was actually done by volunteers. The traditional chamber model replicated across the United States was an organization made up of active members of the business community, gathering together to work on issues of importance to their economic prosperity and facilitated by an executive director and a small staff.
A board elected from the membership formed committees and task forces and businesses encouraged employees to volunteer to be "the hands and feet" of the chamber, chairing committees and forming teams to fulfill the initiatives created. That model began to change in the new millennium, as corporate budgets for "community development" shrank and workforces were trimmed to be lean and focused on the success and survival of the business. With the recession late in the first decade of the 2000's, fewer and fewer businesses could spare their staff during business hours and the Gen-Xers coming up in the business world made the choice that family time trumped after hours, business-related commitments.
Chambers across the country scrambled to evolve in this new reality, and chamber staffs begin to grow and to become more specialized. Our experience in Robertson County has paralleled this and we sought out new sources of membership investment to allow us to add staff to do the tasks for which we once relied on volunteers. The Robertson County Chamber has grown from an executive director and an administrative assistant who together staffed a hands on board and a slate of committees into a professional staff of six that manage and execute programs of work in the areas of membership services, corporate recruitment, education and work-force development, tourism development and existing industry support.
Volunteer leadership is still essential and our board of directors and officers still set the agenda of what projects and initiatives the Chamber will take on. Our organization has been blessed with engaged and passionate board members who think strategically and see the big picture and how the Chamber can continue to be a driving force in the future growth and prosperity of our entire county. We have also been fortunate to have the active participation of our ex-officio leadership, the Robertson County Mayor, the Springfield City Manager, and the Chair of the Robertson County Economic Development Board. Having these leaders engaged as voting members of our board of directors insures that local government's needs are heard and that the work of the Chamber lines up with their priorities.
As our 80th year begins, we know that our Chamber must continue to evolve and change to meet the changing needs of our business community and the residents of Robertson County. E-commerce, political change, workforce scarcity and the booming regional population growth that is just beginning to make its full presence felt within our boundaries all present new challenges that will necessitate fresh approaches.
Our annual board retreat last week was a time of meaningful discussion of how we will change and grow and create a new chamber model that will meet those challenges and be relevant to the needs of Robertson County. We have some exciting ideas that we will begin to put in place over the next twelve months, constantly evaluating the work we are doing and its effectiveness.
2017 promises to be an exciting year for Robertson County, and our Chamber staff and leadership are ready to play a big role in making it happen.