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Chamber turnaround: Memphis November 9, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Innovation, Stronger Organizations.

If only every community had a weblog as good as Smart City Memphis.  Their latest offering is a tribute to the reborn Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce.  The piece itself tells a remarkable story (one that I strongly suggest that you read), but that story should be admired all the more because of the size of the community and amount of institutional momentum that had to be overcome for the Memphis Chamber to make its recent strides.

Not only is the story a wonderful case study of the Memphis Chamber’s turnaround, it also reflects on some (free?) advice that Smart City Consulting gave to the Chamber – six suggested points of emphasis for the Chamber to pursue as it reorganized:

Our six suggestions were:

#1 – Quit selling Memphis on the cheap.

#2 – Exhibit loyalty to Memphis citizens, not just blind loyalty to new businesses.

#3 – Define success by people, not buildings and real estate.

#4 – Abandon “commodity economic development.”

#5 – Set national standards in economic development.

#6 – Don’t wait for the game to come to us.

Based on what we are hearing and seeing, the Chamber is close to being six for six. It of course has a way to go with each, but at least it appears to have begun the journey, something that was unimaginable only two years ago.

What a great story!  In all too many communities, Chambers of Commerce are stuck in ruts – trying to find their way in the digital/global age, dealing with operational/social models that more reflect those of our grandparents than our peers.  And they wonder why they’re drifting into irrelevancy and losing badly-needed revenue.  And our communities NEED strong Chambers to focus business community attention on a host of issues, key among them being workforce development and economic development.

Side note: Since his return to the Columbus (Ohio) Chamber after a stint as the Mayor’s chief of staff, Ty Marsh has accomplished much of the same in terms of focus, direction and rebirth.   I had a chance to talk with Ty a couple months back and left impressed that Columbus’ business community had a real strong leader at the helm.



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