The 21st-Century Chamber: Indispensable to a Dynamic Community

March 24th, 2015

Boulder Chamber Fostering the City’s Innovation-driven Economy through Engagement, Collaboration, Diversity, and Digital-age Services

By Gerry Agnes, Boulder Chamber Board Chair

In the past few years, a meme has developed that challenges the relevance of local chambers of commerce. It goes like this: It’s easy to connect with other businesses or get information, especially in the Internet age. So chambers of commerce aren’t really relevant to the 21st-century economy.

Obviously, as the new Boulder Chamber Board Chair, I strongly disagree. That meme focuses on the old paradigm of chamber operations. Just as our business members have had to transform the way they operate to stay competitive, so has the Chamber transformed in exciting ways to benefit its members, the City, and the entire region. It truly is becoming a “21st-century chamber” through Engagement, Collaboration, Diversity, and Digital-age Services.

 Strengthening “Civic Engagement” to Solve Big Issues

In today’s environment, businesses have learned that engaging in solving community problems is as important as earning profits, and they’ve found ways to do both. New generations of customers and workers, especially in Boulder’s caring community, have come to expect it. We follow that philosophy at Elevations Credit Union, and so do other world-class organizations in our community, such as IBM and Ball Aerospace.

The Chamber is emerging as a champion of sustained and balanced economic vitality to keep Boulder a great place to work and live. While still pursuing its important mission of representing business interests, it has become more engaged in important community-wide issues for the betterment of all. Through its advocacy, the Chamber led the fight to deploy City-wide ultra-fast Internet. It’s promoting reasoned dialogue to resolve contentions around housing and transportation. It’s supported increased funding for education and cultural activities. It’s providing more opportunities for members to actively engage political leadership. And through the Boulder Economic Council, the Chamber is promoting the City’s economic vitality in the “Innovation Age” on a wide range of issues.

 Building Diverse, Collaborative Alliances

Boulder’s success as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship is based substantially on its culture of collaboration. The Chamber is deepening its relationships with key organizations such as the University of Colorado Boulder, the City of Boulder, and various business associations and humanitarian and cultural nonprofits such as the Community Foundation of Boulder County. It’s fostered a closer tie with the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County. Through its Community Affairs Council and our new Arts Liaison and Advisor staff member, it nurtures the arts community, for example, combining its annual Celebration of Leadership with special Arts Week performances. And the Chamber is helping ensure Boulder’s economic future by engaging with tomorrow’s leaders through the Bolder Young Professionals group. In all these ways, the Chamber is becoming a real partner in “building community through business.”

Similarly, the Boulder Chamber has created new ways to bring people together to discuss and debate new ideas and big issues. Through expanded forums with political leaders, the Innovation Blueprint Website blogs and content features, and expanded major events such as its renowned Esprit Entrepreneur, the Chamber is becoming a focal point for learning and exchanging ideas for advancing innovation and solving problems.

 Promoting Success at “The Speed of Business” in the Digital Age

The key question for any prospective Chamber member is, “Why should I join?” The traditional answer is, the Chamber provides opportunities for all businesses to connect to customers, other businesses, and sources of capital through its events, meetings and programs.

That’s still true. But the Chamber also has been moving at “The Speed of Business” in modernizing and expanding its services. The Chamber has developed new tools and opportunities for its members to make it easier to connect with each other and promote their business activities, as well as take advantage of the special perks members enjoy. With more robust online and mobile solutions, the Chamber is keeping its members better informed and better equipped to do business in the digital age. Moreover, the Chamber has greatly expanded its social media engagement, establishing a highly followed presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and its LinkedIn Group. This helps businesses learn about what’s going on at the Chamber and get the word out about what’s going on with them.

In fact, we’ve come to see Chamber membership as an important way for businesses to achieve their own social responsibility goals, help the community’s economic vitality, and achieve business success. It’s a two-way street—supporting the community by supporting the Chamber and its community-building and business support activities is one of the best ways to ensure economic vitality for all. And to be seen as a great business to do business with.

Engagement, Collaboration, Diversity, Modernization. These are the key elements of a “21st-century Chamber.” They are also the strategies by which the Boulder Chamber is not only relevant to but indispensable for sustaining and growing Boulder’s innovation-driven, dynamic economy while preserving its concern for our rich traditions and environment. And as its new Board Chair, I promise to continue progress to being the 21st-century Chamber for the 21st-century economy.

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