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Chamber's Mission-Based Work Pushes Forward

Posted by: Justin Freeman on Monday, August 3, 2020

At its foundation, a chamber is an influencer who inspires leaders, a convener who brings the community together for collaboration, and a catalyst for action and positive change — it’s a place where everyone is given a voice and may contribute to making our future better. In good times or bad, the Chamber’s Mission work is necessary and relevant in its role as the Trusted Voice of Business, the Keeper of the Community Vision and Provider of Essential and Indispensable Business Resources – delivering high value on investment for its members.

What is The Chamber?
The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce welcomes individuals, businesses of all sizes, non-profit organizations and representatives of government, education and industry to our membership. We are a diverse and inclusive organization. Our members, partners and investors come to learn, to teach, to grow, to connect and to give back to their community. They invest their time and money knowing that it takes all of us to build a vibrant community and sustain future success. They join us because they share our Vision and understand that supporting the work of our Mission will get us there – it’s an investment in our future.

We are a nonprofit business and community development organization serving Rogers, Lowell, and Northwest Arkansas. While we work in close partnership with the city governments in Rogers and Lowell, we are a private entity and not a government agency.

Working together with our members, partners and investors, we are the trusted source for growing our region’s business, activating high-impact leaders and building a strong and diverse community. That is our Mission.

Our Mission continuously guides our Program of Work. This Mission-based work pushes us forward constantly to achieve our Vision of being “The center of world-class business, welcoming communities, and opportunities for all.” Ultimately, we help create a cohesive and connected community where people want to visit, live, invest, work, and play.

2020 Program of Work Highlights
To accomplish our Mission, our Program of Work is divided up into strategic focus areas: Economic Development, Downtown Development, Advocacy & Government Affairs, Community Development (Education, Leadership and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion), Destination Marketing (Visit Rogers and Downtown Rogers, Inc.), Small Business Programming (Member Services and Educational & Networking Events) and Long Range Community Planning (Quality of Life & Quality of Place – Vision 100 Implementation).

Despite the pandemic over the past five months, our Mission work has continued while we provided you essential resources and guidelines for the Coronavirus crisis.

Now that we are mid-year, we want to look back at some highlights of the Chamber’s Program of Work.

CORONAVIRUS CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS
From the beginning of this crisis we have worked to help you navigate through shutdown, recovery and safe reopening. In March and April, we surveyed our members about what they needed and provided it with COVID-19 Resources (immediate business assistance and safety guidelines) and we kicked off our #WeMeanBusiness social media campaign to showcase our members’ creative entrepreneurism to survive.

In May and June, we released important information about The Road to Recovery and how to prepare our members to get back to work safely and while approaching it all with a positive attitude that would instill hope, inspiration and community togetherness. We also released the Open for Business Playbook and Back to Business NWA Chamber-to-Community (C2C) Webinars on topics requested by members.

Most recently, we packaged an affordable Marketing Kit to assist members with creating awareness with the community about how to do business with them.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT & DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT
Our Economic Development Division works with industries both large and small to increase job growth and business expansion. They also work with individuals to support and increase our growing small business community.

Economic Development plays a vital role in the Chamber’s overall mission. Staff members work every day to achieve our mission through the areas of business recruitment and expansion, workforce development, business education, and quality of place initiatives. Throughout 2020, staff has achieved progress in each of these areas.

No one can deny that COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on businesses of all sizes this year, but many are still planning for business growth down the road. Chamber staff has worked with multiple business seeking both expansion opportunities and new industries relocating to Northwest Arkansas from out of the area during 2020. These projects sometimes take years to come to fruition, but the groundwork established in 2020 will bring new career opportunities and economic growth to our region in the near future.

Workforce Development
As businesses grow and expand, the need is vital to have a well-educated and skilled workforce to take advantage of the career opportunities in our region. Staff have worked hard this year with workforce development partners at Rogers Public Schools and NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) to educate both students and industries. Work in this area includes promotion of training opportunities and certification options at both the secondary and post-secondary level via the Chamber Voice of Business online newsletter, blog, podcast, social media, and in-person meetings to educate industries about ACT Work Keys initiative and free programming offered by NWACC’s Adult Education division. Staff also participated on a committee to rebrand the Rogers Public School’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) department.

Business Education
Educating existing businesses is a vital role for continued success of business in our area. The Chamber-to-Community (C2C) business education program offered trainings on a variety of topics from marketing to OSHA compliance during COVID and everything in-between.

Over a six-week period from May to June the Chamber offered 12 different virtual C2C trainings. Each of these sessions was recorded and posted on our YouTube channel and social media platforms resulting in over 4,200 total views at the time of this writing.

Quality of Place
Progress has also been made this year to create “Entertainment Districts” within the City of Rogers allowing for retail and restaurants to utilize outdoor space that encourages social distancing during COVID-19. This will also help to increase the overall quality of place in commercial districts within the city. Several meetings have been held (in cooperation with City of Rogers staff ) with real estate developers and property managers to explore further. More announcements on this initiative will be coming in early fall.

Our Downtown Development Division focuses on increasing the number of businesses, employees, and residential properties in the downtown core. They also cultivate strong relations with existing businesses and government entities, identifying opportunities to activate underutilized properties, connecting potential partnerships and facilitating business relationships.

Downtown Development has been busy this year maintaining a list of available properties and sharing with potential tenants. Staff also assisted with courtesy introductions to facilitate B2B opportunities downtown. During the pandemic, staff contacted downtown businesses to help with finding needed resources and encouraged participation with C2C webinars providing important and timely topics for small businesses.

Art on the Bricks Art Walk
Staff adapted this event by offering a virtual version with unique themes helping to showcase participating downtown businesses, regional artists and area non-profits. The virtual art walk and other “good news” stories were curated and successful in attracting media attention which helped promote downtown businesses.

Telling Downtown Rogers Stories via Media Outreach
Staff monitored downtown businesses and helped them tell their stories by pitching local media with press releases and photos. This also included social media posts that achieved very high engagements during the pandemic.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Programs in our Community Development Division impact and enhance the quality of life in Rogers, Lowell and the region. They are committed to expanding our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to better welcome the growing number of residents, workers, and visitors from all backgrounds. They also support educational programs and help develop our leaders for the future.

Leadership Development
Leadership programming and content has safely continued despite the pandemic. We graduated our Arvest First Leadership and Leadership Benton County Cohort. Staff shifted everything to virtual learning and invited alumni of both groups to join in and participate in our Leadership development series.

Academic Awards
Staff honored and recognized all students in the Rogers School District who received a 3.5 GPA or better for the year with our Academic Awards and we recognized four Educators with our Educator of the Year awards for the Rogers School District.

#ListenNWA Social Media Campaign
Staff launched in June our #ListenNWA campaign with help from the Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders to elevate the voices of minority members of our community. While we acknowledge that sharing these stories is no substitute for concrete action, we believe it is a step in the right direction. Our hope is that hearing these stories from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues will spark productive dialogue within the community that will lead to positive change.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)
Staff also launched early this year our Lens Series which focuses on providing training and strategies to help level the playing field for small businesses regarding access to strategic and innovative DEI information and leadership support.

The Lens Series is designed to equip small business leaders with DEI principles to address relevant organizational challenges, apply these principles to business issues, and make their business more welcoming to their employees and customers. The focus is entirely on the small business community and approaches DEI from a business standpoint.

Other engagement and inclusion highlights for our staff include:
•45 participants in our How to Start a Business in Arkansas Seminar conducted in Spanish.
•67% self-response rate for the City of Rogers to-date as a result of our Census 2020 efforts.
•15 Participants in Webinar held in Spanish on how to apply for Federal and State economic assistance for COVID-19.
•32 Spanish speaking Business owners were contacted by phone or mail during this health crisis to offer our help.
•Staff helped translating into Spanish communications going out to the public concerning COVID-19 for the City or Rogers, Benton County and the Chamber.
•Participated on an educational COVID-19 video in Spanish along with the Rogers Fire Department.
•Staff member appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson to the State of Law Enforcement Task Force.
•Participated in the Arkansas Health Department LatinX Stakeholder Outreach Leadership Group and assisted with the recent CDC visit to our State.
•Participated in many interviews as a trusted source both in English and Spanish media.

DESTINATION MARKETING - Visit Rogers
Visit Rogers creates economic opportunity for our community by attracting meetings, conventions, and leisure visitors to the city of Rogers and Northwest Arkansas. Overseen by the Rogers Advertising and Promotion Commission, Visit Rogers is our Destination Marketing Organization responsible for marketing the city to visitors.

Early this year Visit Rogers released Amplify, a multi-episode, programmatic streaming series inspiring music loving consumers to consider a vacation to Rogers. The series has generated over 1 million video plays online and furthers our Mission work to establish Rogers as an arts and entertainment destination.

Visit Rogers also garnered recognition at the 2020 Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The entire team was awarded the Natural State Community Development Award for unique approaches and contributions to community pride and placemaking. Executive Director J. R. Shaw was named 2020 Arkansas Tourism Person of the Year for his contributions advancing tourism in Rogers and the Natural State. These accomplishments reflect achievement in fulfilling the Chamber’s Mission as influencers, catalysts, and collaborators with the community and business.

In response to the pandemic, Visit Rogers conducted a regional broadcast television campaign consisting of outdoor, family friendly travel messages. Television spots delivered a message of safety, convenience and value to drive market travelers, encouraging them to safely visit Rogers and support local businesses.

Through it all, Visit Rogers has continuously promoted and developed the Rogers brand, increasing awareness of and encouraging investment in our world-class destination, to the benefit of our entire community.

Downtown Rogers (DTR) Inc.
Downtown Rogers (DTR), Inc. creates experiences designed to bring our community together in the downtown district to celebrate the past and embrace the future. They work hard to make downtown a destination where people can explore our historic brick streets and buildings and enjoy fun, recreational activities.

Staff planned and successfully launched the DTR Market (downtown farmers market) observing all safety precautions at its temporary location this year. A new app was launched and has helped provide options to safely purchase products from vendors for pick-up Saturday mornings at the market.

Staff continued to be a source this year for downtown event consultation and collaboration for potential events that can take place later this year and more so for next year (2021) after the new Railyard Park is completed.

With consistent communication and transparency DTR newsletter subscriptions and social media followers and engagement have continued to grow. The public has responded favorably to our staff’s efforts to keep people informed about what businesses are open and those opening back up from the shutdown.

The DTR team has also taken this time to design, draft and conceptualize community programs for possible events this fall/winter (as a contingency) and 2021. They are looking into virtual versions of some of future events (and hybrids) going forward. They have surveyed past participants, merchants and partners to gain feedback and ideas for future events and how to improve current ones.

The team is constantly collaborating with the City of Rogers and NWA Council on the Rogers Arts and Culture strategy in development.

ADVOCACY & GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
Our Government Affairs division serves as the link between members and local, state and federal government by advocating for pro-business and quality of life issues that are important to Northwest Arkansas. They also engage in activities that produce long-term positive impacts including voter registration and education, engagement of members in the political process and continuously improved outreach efforts.

The role of the Government Affairs Division at the Chamber is to bring focus to those issues that can have a positive influence on business and to those issues that can be costly and unfriendly. The division provides education and advocacy on the priorities of the membership to the proper government body.

More than any division at the Chamber over the past five months, Government Affairs has been called upon to help our members navigate through the challenges that our businesses have had during the pandemic including working closely with Northwest Arkansas legislators to facilitate the process of applying for the Ready for Business Grant Program for area businesses.

Government Affairs was the first local chamber in Arkansas to host “A Conversation with Governor Hutchinson” on the issues affecting the COVID-19 response by the state and the virus’s effect on the reopening of the economy.

Staff also worked with local manufacturers and entertainment venues in maneuvering the federal and state processes related to CARES Act funding and worked with the U.S. Chamber and the Arkansas State Chamber to host virtual webinars that shared information on COVID-19 liability issues affecting large and small businesses.

In March, the division encouraged voter safety by developing a program to encourage voters to vote early or absentee during the Primary Election.

Recently, staff worked with Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders to host a virtual Ready, Set, Run program preparing prospective candidates to run for local office.

SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAMMING - Member Services
Membership in the Chamber is a direct investment in the work we do to grow business and build community. Our Member Services division helps you understand how to connect, invest and grow with us. Whether you are a community partner, member, or both, we provide “over-the-top” customer service by offering valuable information, services and programs to deliver value and return on your investment with the Chamber.

During the pandemic, Member Services has continued to connect with our members to keep them engaged and involved in the Chamber: listening to concerns; providing member referrals; and sharing Member News with our membership on RogersLowell.com and social media.

Staff continues to help members see a return on their investment by reviewing their reasons for joining the Chamber and offering suggestions on how they can best utilize their membership. Member Services is often a business’ first point of contact when they join the Chamber and our team is knowledgeable about all aspects of the Chamber, offering relevant and helpful information. Customer service is always top-of-mind with our Member Services team.

Our personal contact has been especially critical now that we are unable to physically meet with new members or new business representatives.

Events
From an event standpoint, the Chamber is focused on actively getting us all back together again, in a safe manner as guided by the CDC.

The June Chamber Picnic fed over 75 Chamber members throughout a two-hour window. We focused on safe food handling and social distancing inside our large conference room with no more than 20 people at a time in 30-minute time slots

In-person networking events resumed in July and are averaging around 25 participants. Masks are being worn while not eating or drinking and members are practicing social distancing while networking. All food and drink have been served safely in individual containers or served by an employee of the host business.

As we move into the fall, we are excited to get members back together on the golf course and gun range during our Chamber Golf Tournament and Sporting Clays Classic. Both events are held outdoors with plenty of space to be safety for participants.

The NWA Fall Job Fair will move from a one-day face to face event to a month-long virtual NWA Employment Showcase. This is a great opportunity for members to hire high caliber employees as they ramp up for the fourth quarter hiring needs and beyond.

LONG RANGE COMMUNITY PLANNING - VISION 100
VISION 100 was developed last year by engaging in a process of discovering the kind of future our Rogers-Lowell community wanted. Residents were given opportunities to express their ideas in an online survey and a series of community tables. Through this discovery, we learned what our community envisions for itself in anticipation of our area reaching a population of 100,000 before 2035.

Since 1989 the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce has been the Keeper of the Community Vision and proactively collaborated with city and regional leaders to produce strategic visioning plans. VISION 100 is our most recent program unveiled at the 2019 Leaders Conference in the Fall of 2019.

Adopted by the Board of Directors of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce and both Rogers and Lowell municipal governments, this is a useful guide in preparing for the future growth of both communities. We are committed to promoting the use of the plan across the community, by government agencies, regional organizations, corporations, companies, businesses, nonprofits, and other community groups, and publicizing progress toward completion of the goals. We have continued our work this year to keep the momentum going.

The people of Rogers and Lowell pride themselves on being a welcoming, safe, inclusive and family-friendly community, that is innovative, prosperous and healthy. They have identified an exciting vision for the future that is based on building a place people want to live, work, visit and play. In constructing the vibrant, diverse and cohesive community of the future, the community will foster a quality of life that inspires imagination, showcases talent, provides opportunity and values authenticity. Download the Vision 100 document and learn more.

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