Guest column/Chamber of commerce seeking change in 2018

The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce has always been a work-in-progress since its inception in 1908. Although many don’t quite understand what a chamber of commerce does, they benefit from its existence without ever realizing it.

The mission of our chamber is to strengthen and grow the local business community by providing resources that maximize business performance through advocacy, education and networking. The goal of this quarterly column will be to keep those who live and work in Jefferson County up to speed on the happenings at the chamber and encourage participation, membership and engagement.

¯ On Oct. 18 the Chamber hosted its 109th-annual Meeting and Awards Dinner, recognizing individuals and businesses in five award categories. This is a great annual event for the local business community as it brings together businesses and organizations of all sizes and types, their families and employees. This year’s theme, “Making it here. Making it home,” was a salute to our local manufacturers with keynote speaker Rob Brundrett from the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. Nearly 300 attended and enjoyed an opening video by Pierce Media that highlighted the many products being produced in Jefferson County.

¯ The chamber encourages local spending year-round but the holidays are a time when we focus on it even more. We strive to be a valuable resource for our local businesses and help them have as successful a holiday season as possible. We are excited to announce the slate of holiday “Shift Your Shopping” programming and encourage local residents to look first to local businesses this holiday season when shopping.

¯ Small Business Saturday, Nov. 25 — Various “Buy Local” sites will be set up around the county at local retailers with volunteers handing out fresh coffee and doughnuts along with shopping bags, coupons, stickers and T-shirts to promote local holiday shopping.

¯ Buy local receipt drawing — Shoppers may enter online at the chamber website and log their receipts from purchases made at Jefferson County businesses between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24. For every $50 spent locally, shoppers receive one entry in a drawing to win $500 cash.

¯ Holiday open house — The chamber offices will be pulling out all the stops to welcome chamber members and their employees for an afternoon of music, great food and drink, music, goody bags and more, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 7.

¯ Holiday gift list — A scrolling gift idea list from local member businesses will be featured on the chamber website with a click through to each business website. Visit jeffersoncountychamber.com.

¯ “Buy local” door decals, stickers and T-shirts — Local businesses and their employees will be showing their local pride throughout the holiday shopping season with the “Eat, Drink & Buy Local” logos worn with pride at businesses and door decals welcoming shoppers.

¯ Steubenville’s Sights and Sounds of Christmas, Nutcracker Dreams parade — Ambassador Club members will staff the “Shift Your Shopping” nutcracker-themed float in the downtown Steubenville parade on Dec. 9, carrying shopping bags from local stores and handing out coupons to parade-goers.

¯ Jefferson County Holiday “Give Back Guide” — A listing of local businesses and organizations that are providing programs or events to help those less fortunate this holiday season — a great way to find out where and how you, your business, your employees or your family can help.

Remember that our local businesses are the ones who support the sports teams that your children and grandchildren play on, the schools they attend, the charities and churches that you are involved with and the organizations that you are passionate about. Our local businesses are continually asked to donate and support programs and events year after year, often many times per year. Yet many people head out of town to eat, drink or shop without considering that they should reciprocate that support. Although the proximity to Robinson Township, St. Clairsville and Pittsburgh is one of our area’s biggest assets, do your best to support local businesses when price, selection and customer service are equal. This holiday season try to purchase at least 25 percent of your gifts in or near Jefferson County. This money comes back to us again and again in the form of tax revenue, jobs and re-spending at other local businesses.

¯ 2018 will be a year of unprecedented transformations at the chamber as it launches the next phase of its Community Investment Plan that was originally created in 2008 under then-chamber president Gary Folden. The summit plan will dramatically shift the chamber’s focus to the following areas:

¯ Work force training and education;

¯ Local, state and federal advocacy;

¯ Job creation; and

¯ Community development and public relations.

In addition, the chamber will use the Summit Plan to engage other people, businesses, organizations, committees, groups and government entities from throughout the county so that the major issues and challenges facing us may all be addressed in one comprehensive strategy. The overall goal, simply put, is for Jefferson County to be high on the list when it comes to employers, entrepreneurs and families deciding where they want to put down their roots.

The chamber will still offer the networking, educational and promotional opportunities that its members have come to enjoy and rely on, but its efforts will drastically shift toward the bigger picture. Every available resource will be put toward an action plan that doesn’t sit on a shelf but is utilized daily to ensure accountability, tangible results and a lot of thinking outside the box. There will be exciting ways to get involved as well — new, relevant, working committees, projects that you will help create and watch take shape and initiatives that are based on facts, timelines and what has worked (or not) in other communities.

This community-wide atmosphere of positive change will involve many people, businesses, organizations and government entities from every city, village and township. All of Jefferson County will be represented and included.

I invite you to become engaged in the local business community — or re-engaged if you’ve been out of the loop. Be an advocate, a role model and a risk taker as we head into the next year. Be the person who says, “Welcome” when you meet a newcomer or visitor, not the person who asks, “Why would you come here?” Be part of the solution.

(Maple-Damewood is president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.)

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