Moving from Relevant to Essential

Chris Romer, ACE

What’s your theme in 2022?

I’m not much for resolutions; while the start of a new year is a natural time to reflect and make commitments to the future, it strikes me that we’re better off making changes as needed when we identify opportunities.

That said, I do think a new year is an appropriate time to develop a theme for your chamber. This year’s W.A.C.E. Annual Conference theme of moving from relevant to essential is a perfect reflection of the crossroads our industry — and our organizations — face as we head into 2022. My theme for 2022, in the spirit of moving from relevant to essential, is resiliency.

Conscious Decision

Chambers of commerce — regardless of geography or membership size — must make the conscious decision to be essential to their community and to their members. Strengthening local businesses is a universal chamber goal. We all want to help businesses grow and be successful, thereby creating good jobs for our locals, which in turn drives a successful community and stimulated economy. It is incumbent on us as chamber executives and community leaders to embrace resiliency to achieve these goals.

How exactly can we do this? True community resilience must take the additional steps to engage and benefit all community members and consider all the challenges the community faces — whatever those may be in your region. Resilient chambers must have the capacity to identify problems, establish priorities, and act. Embracing a theme of resiliency requires us to act.

Chambers of commerce must act as a responsive participant in economic recovery efforts by serving as an information hub by collecting data and convening the appropriate players to facilitate recovery post-disruption. Those paying attention over the past few years to W.A.C.E.’s 3C positioning are likely playing this role already. To truly embrace resiliency, chambers must act as a conduit between the business community and our local and state governments, and we must help our business community by being a voice to government officials. The days of sitting on the sidelines are long gone.

Chambers Built to Lead

Leading economic resiliency efforts in our communities is a role chambers of commerce are built for. It is in our DNA, and it is a large reason why we exist. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that it is increasingly apparent that regional economic prosperity is linked to an area’s ability to prevent, withstand and quickly recover from major disruptions (i.e., “shocks”) to its economic base. As we enter our third year of operating in a COVID environment, it is incumbent on chambers to rally around the theme of resiliency to position ourselves as essential.

Chambers must remain focused on community resiliency and business support as we grapple with the continuing impacts of COVID-19 on our communities. Chambers must focus on short- and mid-term mission-oriented work such as workforce development, advocacy, and political action. We must do this mission work while providing other necessary programming to support longer-term economic rebuilding that could need to be measured over years.

Essential Efforts

Chambers can focus on leading resiliency efforts — and at the same time positioning ourselves as essential — by:

• Building programs that address key workforce issues and business support needs;

• Building communities to which residents, visitors and investors are attracted;

• Promoting the communities;

• Striving to ensure future prosperity via a pro-business climate;

• Representing the unified voice of the employer community; and

• Reducing transactional friction through well-functioning networks.

We are the champions for a stronger community. We understand and represent the business perspective on local and regional issues, help businesses thrive and provide regional leadership around “big issues” of importance.

Resilient communities need resilient chambers, and I for one embrace the challenge ahead.

Chris Romer, ACE, is president and CEO of the Vail Valley (CO) Partnership and outgoing chair of the board of W.A.C.E.