Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Holidays from the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce!

Thanks for connecting with us in 2009 via social media!  It's a great time to scroll back through the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce blog to refresh your memory on some of the exciting things that have happened in the business community throughout this year.

We'll be taking a short break from blog posts, and look forward to reconnecting with you after the first of the year.

Very best wishes for you and your business for the holiday season, and happy 2010!

Monday, November 30, 2009

American Free Enterprise - Dream Big

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched a campaign for American Free Enterprise (, and it is a significant undertaking.  The initiative is based on the very fabric of American society - the concept that ideas breed entrepreneurs and, in turn, jobs.  These jobs will strengthen the United States to compete in the global economy, and 20 million new jobs will need to be created in the coming decade to keep America strong.

It's certainly worthwhile to take the time to visit the website and at the very least view the video.  Even better, read the site in depth, pledge your support, share your story and connect with the movement through a number of social media channels. 

The American Free Enterprise initiative calls us to "dream big."  It focuses on what matters in the business community - bright ideas, big dreams,  brave entrepreneurs, factories, farmers, leaders and followers.  The initiative is compelling, and it hits at the very core of what makes America strong, makes us all proud to live in and lead our communities and reminds us why the business community matters.

It's tough to summarize why it pulls at your heartstrings, but you know that it's the reason you get up every morning and work hard.  The campaign touches on "the race" - the idea that Americans will have to outwork, outthink and outdream to thrive in the future.  It's a concept you can believe in and share with others.  Take a little time to learn more and share the story - invite your friends and colleagues to learn more with a quick post on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.  View these two additional videos (1.5 minutes total), as well:

Dream big.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unemployment, job fair attendance indicate positive signs

Workforce recruitment, retention and outreach are some of the most important topics for staff at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber conducts two job fairs annually, typically in May and October, which attract between 50 - 120 hiring companies and anywhere from 1,500 to 3,200 job seekers depending upon current economic conditions. However, as we indicated in press coverage of our most recent event on October 12, we believe there are some positive signs of recovery for job seekers:

Job Fair Turnout Shows Improving Economy (40/29 News)

Job Fair Offers Positions, Training (40/29 News)

Job Fair Attracts Unemployed, Those Seeking Better Pay (The Morning News)

Economic indicators continue to improve. At the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, our economic development inquiries have been steady or up over 2008 every single month year to date (January - September 2009). This includes new business inquiries, economic development prospects, individuals looking to open franchises, small businesses and home-based businesses.

Northwest Arkansas remains an outstanding and desirable place to go into business as well as to live, play and raise a family. We're pleased to see progress in historic downtown Rogers as well - downtown Rogers merchants are banding together better than we've ever seen, and there is a new attitude of optimism in downtown Rogers spurred by efforts from Main Street Rogers (Mocha on Main Street, the new butterfly and hummingbird park on First Street, downtown intersection improvements), as well as efforts by merchants (third Friday Twilight Walks are thriving).

We're serving more diverse business inquiries than ever, and our diversity program continues to gain momentum. Most recent U.S. Census Bureau numbers still place Rogers at approximately 31% Hispanic or Latino, and we are assisting many of these individuals with start-up businesses (most popular: restaurants, auto detail and repair, child care, salons) as well as translation, outreach and referral services.

As you may recall, in June 2009 Forbes magazine ranked the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA (metropolitan statistical area) at #2 on its list of the best places in the nation for recession recovery ( We couldn't agree more, although we think Northwest Arkansas is a fantastic place even without talk of recessions!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Exciting times for NWA Emerging Leaders

Just in case you haven't heard some of the buzz about Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders (previous post:, this is a great time to learn more and get involved, or encourage an outstanding member of your team to do so!

Conceived as a vehicle for engaging some of the fantastic emerging talent attracted to Northwest Arkansas by the world-class companies in our backyards, NWA Emerging Leaders has quickly become a source of positive action for communities up and down Interstate 540. As a case in point, revisit the post regarding the outstanding efforts by the NWAEL Sustainability Workgroup during the P&G Beauty NWA LPGA Championship in September:

The next NWAEL quarterly program will be on October 28 from 11:30 to 1:00 at the Center for Nonprofits at St. Mary's in Rogers. The program will feature Legacy speaker Betsy Reithemeyer as well as Carla Sloan, who will speak about balance and finding your passion. Seating is limited - register and find additional information at:

A great deal of information is available at, including links to join NWA Emerging Leaders and to connect with the group via social media venues such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Motivated employees can print an information sheet for their boss to help convince them of the worthwhile nature of the program. On that note, however, the NWAEL program seeks to impose very little on the individual's work day by limiting programs to quarterly gatherings over the lunch hour. A great deal of the substance of NWA Emerging Leaders comes through the workgroups. A list, including contact information and mission statements, is also available at

Send the link to an aspiring young man or woman you may know in Northwest Arkansas. If they exude ideas, promise, commitment, passion and a desire to serve and to lead, they are probably a perfect fit for Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders. And if that sounds like you... hopefully you've just joined!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Attract customers and operate your business more sustainably!

As previously mentioned in our post regarding the August launch of the Green Plus program (, there are tremendous opportunities available to businesses who understand and pursue sustainable practices.

We're delighted to announce that Brick Street Botanical ( in Historic Downtown Rogers, a member of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce since opening their doors last October, is the very first Green Plus certified business in the state of Arkansas!

National Public Radio (KUAF 91.3) reporter Jacqueline Froelich compiled a great story on Ozarks at Large recently regarding the Green Plus program featuring Holly Mang, owner of Brick Street Botanical. You can listen to the story here: and access photos at

Currently, more than two dozen member businesses of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce are pursuing or considering Green Plus certification. Members of the chamber receive a substantial ($200) discount on the program.

Two upcoming information sessions will help interested businesses learn more, ask questions and enroll. Plan now to attend on either Thursday, October 29 from 11:00 to noon (register here: or Tuesday, November 3 from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. (register here: or in the AT&T Conference Room at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

For additional information, contact Beth Stephens (479-619-3192 or

Monday, October 19, 2009

Working for Northwest Arkansas in Washington D.C.

While most of us were tending to day to day tasks in Northwest Arkansas this October, a dedicated group representing our community visited Washington D.C. to advocate a number of issues on our behalf.

Mayors and chamber of commerce leaders representing the five largest cities in Northwest Arkansas - Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale - visited the nation's Capitol to oppose stricter phosphorus levels as well as ongoing transportation needs.

The group met with Congressional leaders (Senators Pryor, Lincoln and four Congressmen) regarding regional infrastructure issues as well as the Federal Highway Administration and representatives from the Secretary of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Martine Downs Pollard, senior vice president of government affairs for the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, posted updates on the trip via Twitter:

- Boarding flight to DC for NWA Regional Leaders Fly-In, meetings scheduled w Congressional leaders, EPA & FHWA from mobile web

- Great business dinner at B Smiths @ Union Station, DC One last briefing for tomorrow's mtgs It's going to be a fast and furious day tmrw! from web

- Just wrapped up meeting with NWA mayors and chambers execs with reps from Fed Highway and Sec. of Trans. in DC from mobile web

- Finished Arkansas Cong Luncheon with Cong Boozman, Cong Ross & Cong Berry and staff in Cannon off to meet with EPA staff from mobile web

- What a productive day in DC. Good mtgs & reception from EPA, FHWA & OMB. I'm cautiously optmstc @ our asks. Even saw Obamas mtrcde up close from mobile web

Additional press coverage on the NWA Mayors & Chamber Execs trip to DC:

To keep up with government affairs activities in real-time, follow Martine: or learn more and contact her directly regarding monthly government affairs committee meetings, legislative and candidate forums, efforts by NWA Emerging Leaders related to political and government affairs or to subscribe to email updates.

More information and contact information:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why should you care about Drug Free Rogers-Lowell?

October is Meth Awareness & Prevention Month. While it is easy to disregard this as another sensationalist themed month that doesn't affect you directly, it's also an excellent opportunity to learn a little more about the effects of meth on our community.

At the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, we're fortunate to have some experts in that field. While it is uncommon for chambers of commerce to acknowledge, much less work to prevent, social issues such as methamphetamine use, underage drinking and smoking or unhealthy lifestyles, our team is proud of the outstanding preventive efforts of the Drug Free Rogers-Lowell team here at the chamber. Most impressive to us is that our DFRL team and coalition members will present information on meth awareness and prevention in every sixth grade and higher classroom in Benton County this month. Talk about impact!

Drug Free Rogers-Lowell (DFRL) was formed in 1998 by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce as a drug-free workplace task force. This task force's mission was to advocate for legislation allowing drug testing in Arkansas workplaces, and incentives to be provided to businesses implementing drug-free policies. Due to the efforts of Drug Free Rogers-Lowell, this legislation was passed, and DFRL continues to promote the Drug Free Workplace Program. DFRL initiatives, partnerships and programs promote the economic, social, environmental and individual health of Rogers and Lowell for sustainable development.

Most importantly, these are not just "warm fuzzy" lifestyle issues - they are business issues. Rising healthcare costs, employee absenteeism, lack of performance and safety issues affect the bottom line and success of businesses every single day.

You can learn quite a bit by visiting the website of the Drug Free Rogers-Lowell team: Here are a few action items for you:

1. Check out the video created for the 6th Annual Meth Prevention & Awareness Month at If you're a parent, watch it with your teens and preteens, and share it with others. The more awareness built in the community on this topic, the better.

2. Take just a moment to take the DFRL Underage Drinking & Social Hosting Survey: And, if you're so inclined, mention a link to the survey via any social media you may use (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) to help provide survey participation and feedback.

3. Learn more about meth - what is it, who's trying it and how to stop it - at

4. Learn more about other issues affecting our community: underage drinking, tobacco, prescription medication abuse and illegal drugs - all at

Don't take the obvious path of assuming these issues do not affect you, your family, your children, your colleagues and your neighbors. Take a moment to learn more. We're confident you'll be as impressed as we are by the efforts of the Drug Free Rogers-Lowell team.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sam's Club CEO to Highlight 2009 Annual Banquet

Save the date for the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet on Thursday, February 11, 2010 at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers. This annual gathering of 800 - 1,000 Northwest Arkansas business leaders celebrates accomplishments of the previous year, honors outstanding businesses and individuals in our community and sets the tone for the coming business year.

The Chamber’s annual banquet is the largest such gathering of business leaders in Northwest Arkansas. A long list of distinguished previous speakers includes Lee Scott, Arkansas Governors Clinton, Tucker and Huckabee, Senators Bumpers, Pryor (Sr. and Jr.), Boozman, Hammerschmidt, both Hutchinson brothers, Ara Parsigian, Tommy Lasorda, Rogers Penske, Mean Joe Green and NFL Ref. Buddy Coleman. Commentary and introduction of Steven S. Little, former Inc. magazine consultant and small business expert by Greg Spragg, J.B. Hunt and Dick Bond of Tyson Foods.

Brian Cornell, CEO of Sam's Club, will serve as keynote speaker for the 2009 Annual Banquet, reflecting the aligned focus of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce and Sam's Club as premier membership organizations focused on the wellbeing of small to medium businesses in Northwest Arkansas and beyond.

As the premier regional business event of the year, the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet celebrates regional accomplishments, recognizes leadership and serves as an excellent platform for the business community. The evening also features current Chairman of the Board Wayne Callahan of H.J. Heinz, who has led the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce throughout 2009.

The annual banquet on February 11, 2010 begins with an evening reception at 6:00 p.m. followed by dinner featuring the keynote speaker and annual awards at 7:00 p.m. Stay tuned for details at and mark your calendar to attend - you won't want to miss this outstanding gathering of Northwest Arkansas business leaders.

A limited number of event sponsorships are available to Chamber businesses wishing to participate in this prestigious event. Contact Shelle Summers at 479-619-3187 or for details.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Economic Development Behind the Scenes

Economic development is a vague concept for the general public, at best.

Better defined as business development, or the dynamic process of recruiting new businesses and assisting to existing businesses, it begins to make sense. Try this on for size: economic development equals new businesses, new customers and new residents which actively contribute to our community's quality of life, i.e. all the things that make Northwest Arkansas a fantastic place to live, work and play.

Economic development is one of the most effective things we can do for the community as a chamber of commerce, and yet it is often the least understood and definitely the most poorly communicated. That's because we can't always say what we're doing when we're doing it.

So, in the spirit of transparency as best we can offer it, this recent information we've shared with our executive committee of the board of directors might be of interest:

Economic Development Report (YTD Aug. 2009)

Small Business Outreach

- Assisted 46 businesses.
- Most inquiries related to business licensing, permitting, how to structure a business.
- Many referrals to experts in the field, i.e. SCORE, the Small Business Administration, SBTDC.
- Economic environment has led many to take the leap to start a business after years of considering it.
- Types of inquires range from handyman services, restaurants and auto repair/detail (most popular) to training/consulting, franchises and child care operations.

Workforce Recruitment/Retention

- Served 100+ job seekers.
- Assistance includes resume review/updating, referrals to job banks and career resources and orientation to job seeking tools such as LinkedIn.
- Materials (magazines, DVDs, maps) and resources (community tours) offered to area employers to assist in efforts to attract and retain the best and brightest for Northwest Arkansas.

Minority Business Outreach

- Served 30 start-up inquiries and 143 job seekers.
- Supported 133 individuals with permits, forms, licensing, health department compliance and translation.
- Assisted 18 individuals with MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) Certification.
- Provided Spanish and English language courses to 60 individuals.

Business Recruitment/Expansion

- Responded to 75 inquiries from prospective/existing companies.
- Many inquiries are related to data and demographics, but an average of 3 - 5 inquiries a month seeking the opportunity to locate or expand in our community.
- Efforts continue in downtown Rogers, with assistance provided to companies such as Enformix ( and Rolando's restaurant ( with their new downtown locations.

It may not be the most exciting thing we do in terms of the attention span of the general public, but it is one of the most important and valuable things we do every day toward our goal of growing business, building community.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Leading by Example

Young northwest Arkansas business leaders literally got their hands dirty last week during the P&G Beauty LPGA Championship on September 7 – 13 in Rogers.

Members of the Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders ( sustainability workgroup made a sizable dent in waste generated by thousands of spectators, players, media and fans.

Under the exceptional management of workgroup leader Paul Wilson of Intrust Bank (, NWAEL partnered with Octagon Management ( and the new City of Rogers Recycling Center ( to gather, sort and haul literal tons of recyclable waste from the event, which would otherwise have been bound for dumpsters and ultimately, landfills.

Group members made a noticeable impact on event attendees - dozens of Northwest Arkansas business leaders digging in trash to sort recyclables and often dumpster diving to retrieve recyclable waste certainly attracted some attention!

Volunteers in addition to Paul Wilson icluded Scott Van Asche, Michael Lindsey, Julianna Arthur, Melissa and Joel Taylor, Clay Kendall, Matthew Carter, Jennifer Harris, Al Drinkwater, Martine Downs Pollard, Jene' Huffman, Ryan Kopp, Clint Hopper, Diana Sparks, Jordan Difani, Andrew Motter, Keaton SMith, Todd Novotny, Kinya Elenbarger, Denise Thomas, Sabrina Rampey, Mandy Jane, Jonathan Mwaba, Sarah Beardsley, David Stay, Beth Stephens, Jared Carmichael and Dwight and Dallas Heasley along with their troop of four hardworking boys!

Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders is envisioned as a substantive program for dedicated professionals who seek to be actively involved in the NWA community. NWAEL is an initiative of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce and consists of informative programs (quarterly) as well as active workgroups formed to collectively tackle community issues and projects. The mission of NWAEL is to retain emerging leaders and build a lasting legacy in Northwest Arkansas by providing the resources to infuse new talent with existing leadership.

For more information or to join, visit

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Marketing Northwest Arkansas as an entrepreneurial hub

If you've spent more than a minute in Northwest Arkansas, you know it's the place to be. Unfortunately, it's often an uphill battle selling this idea to outsiders, but the proof is in the pudding: once people visit our community and spend a little time here, they get it.

Similarly, if you're remotely familiar with Northwest Arkansas, you know that our region attracts some of the very best and brightest for careers with Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transportation and local outposts for hundreds of internationally-recognized Consumer Product Companies such as Kraft, Coca-Cola, Unilever and 3M. The caliber of these world-class companies make Northwest Arkansas an undiscovered gem for innovative people, ideas and cutting-edge development.

This October, Rogers will host the region's first Startup Weekend to bring developers, startup and dotcom enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists, legal minds and entrepreneurs together for a one-of-a-kind event. Startup Weekend is an intensive, 54-hour event held in cities worldwide to encourage and incubate business propositions and startup projects. Typically held in cities such as Seattle, Washington (where a recent Startup Weekend event was hosted at the Google offices), the events are hosted in areas known for their critical mass of technology infrastructure, emerging talent and entrepreneurial spirit.

Attendees will will descend upon the University of Arkansas Global Campus in Rogers for NWA Startup Weekend on October 2 – 4. Throughout the weekend, individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets and work/life experience pitch, tweak and solidify business propositions, with events often resulting in as many as half a dozen viable projects which teams may pursue
beyond the weekend. Attendees range from 35 to 200+ depending on location.

While a startup venture is the technical goal, many attendees attend for the opportunity to mingle and learn from others and for the intense experience, which may supplement their current career or support them in future endeavors. Many employers support the participation of their employees, understanding that the event stimulates innovation which may benefit the attendee’s current company.

The NWA Startup Weekend will be presented by Rockfish Interactive( at the University of Arkansas Global Campus at the Arkansas World Trade Center in Rogers ( Tickets are $75 per person for the entire weekend (including meals) and are available at A limited number of opportunities for companies desiring to meet and mingle with highly-motivated entrepreneurs in a dynamic, intimate setting are available through meal sponsorship for attendees. The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce serves as a partner and catalyst in bringing this unique event to Northwest Arkansas.

To say the least, we can't wait for this meeting of the minds. Get your tickets, tell a genius you know to attend or simply follow event updates on Twitter: @NWAStartupWknd.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Meaningful Green Certification for Small/Medium Businesses

Granted, we're pretty excited about just about everything we do at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. We get to work behind the scenes every single day to positively impact businesses and people, and that's pretty cool!

However, it's been a long time since we've seen anything quite as exciting as the Green Plus program come along. Our enthusiasm is obvious in the accelerated timeline we used in implementing this program - we learned about it on July 31 via the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (our national professional association representing thousands of chambers throughout the U.S.), and we will be announcing the program at a press conference on August 24! You're probably going to share our excitement on this one.

We've looked for several years for a meaningful "green" initiative for our members: a program that was not just warm, fuzzy lip service about saving the world - a program that would have teeth to it and legs beneath it, and that would mean something to our member businesses. We found it in Green Plus, an initiative of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Chapel Hill, NC. The Green Plus program is the result of two years of research at Duke University and UNC, and provides an actual green certification for businesses.

Our favorite part is the focus of Green Plus on a well-rounded business through their theme of People. Planet. Performance. In other words, recycling and using CFLs is great, but is your business thriving? Do you have a marketing plan? Are your people engaged in the community? The idea is that you can't save the world if your business is failing. The self-guided audit process (with spot checks and plenty of accountability to ensure the integrity of the certification) allows businesses to systematically work toward Green Plus certification with dedicated assistance from experts and connections to local resources.

In the past, there was no true checklist or system for a business to indicate its commitment to responsibility, sustainability and green practices. The Green Plus certification is reminiscent of LEED certification for buildings and construction projects, but tailored to small and medium businesses. We think this will be a program to watch on a national and international scale, so it was a no-brainer to jump in as early adopters. In fact, Arkansas will be just the third state to adopt the program, although dozens of communities throughout the U.S. are making plans to participate. Cleveland will launch the program in October, and the chambers representing the communities that Princeton, Case Western Reserve and Ohio State call home are interested.

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce wasted no time vetting this program with key stakeholders and taking a leadership role in bringing it to Northwest Arkansas businesses. Members of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce will be able to enroll in the certification process at a deeply discounted rate ($350 for the first 16 months of enrollment, and $75 for sole proprietorships with fewer than three employees). Businesses obtaining the Green Plus certification will be listed in a global directory and receive marketing collateral to share their achievement with potential customers.

Interested? Join us for a press conference on Monday, August 24 at 1:00 p.m. at the Arkansas World Trade Center announcing the program. Our guest will be Chris Carmody, director of Green Plus and the Institute for Sustainable Development, from Chapel Hill, NC. You can also find more information at, and can follow Green Plus on Twitter: @GreenPlus.

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce will hold information sessions for interested member businesses on Wednesday, August 26 from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. (in person with Chris Carmody) and via teleconference on Thursday, September 3 from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. For additional information on this innovative program or to enroll your business, contact Beth Stephens at 479-619-3192 or

Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NWA Businesses Poised for Success

One of the most exciting abilities of a chamber of commerce is the capacity to affect positive change for businesses and the community. It sounds a little corny, but it is what we do on behalf of our members, and the primary reason we exist.

In the coming months as businesses continue to lift their heads and raise themselves out of the actual and perceived affects of the economic downturn, we see dozens of exciting things happening - some of which we've implemented, others we've just been fortunate to observe.

One such example is the overwhelming attitude of enthusiasm and promise at the NWA Business Conference & Expo earlier this month. The theme of the day was thriving rather than simply surviving, and participating businesses radiated a desire to thrive and an eagerness to absorb resources and information throughout the day.

A room-capacity luncheon crowd hung on every word from Cindy Davis, EVP membership, marketing and e-commerce for Sam's Club, and celebrated as a peer and deserving business (Rick and Naomi McLeod from McLeod Insurance Agency/Farmers Insurance Group) was honored as Small Business of the Year. Many seminars (particularly those related to marketing, sales and growth themes) were standing-room only, and dozens hung on every word as Clyde Fessler delivered a keynote address on the innovative take-no-prisoners approach of Harley Davidson Motor Company's success during an economic downturn two decades ago.

While the event can certainly be judged an overwhelming success and we'd love to rest on those laurels, what matters to us is not whether the Chamber pulled off a great event, but rather how many businesses were positively affected and will take away at least one, great applicable idea to grow their own business.

Watching the crowd, mingling with the attendees and seeing dozens of businesses connect with one another in the Expo, it was evident that Northwest Arkansas businesses are indeed ready to thrive rather than simply survive. At the end of the day, that's what Growing Business, Building Community means for us at the Chamber!

Give us your input for next year - a number of sponsors and exhibitors have already committed for a bigger and better than ever 2010 NWA Business Conference & Expo!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Focusing on Your Business, Your Success

One of our favorite things to do at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce is connect with our members. However, you all have businesses to run, and it's tough to make time to get away to visit with us and share your feedback on how we're doing, how you're doing, and how the community at-large is doing. When it does happen, though, the effects are monumental.

Twice per month (on the first and third Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m.) we hold small, semi-informal Member Focus Group luncheons. A member of our board of directors attends and provides lunch in addition to listening in, and either our CEO Raymond Burns or EVP Beth Stephens conduct the focus group. Often, our members commit to attend without being quite certain what they've signed on to do, other than attend lunch. These focus groups have a significant impact on the way we do business on behalf of business, and we think they're of benefit to members, as well.

We start with a quick overview of the Chamber, our mission, the state of the community and a few updates on trends in the community related to business, demographics etc. Really, we're just giving the attendees time to chew. The real meat of the focus group comes when we stop talking and start listening to our member businesses - typically 6 - 10 per month. We go around the room and ask for the top issues confronting each of the attendees and their businesses, and the results can have an effect on the way we operate at the Chamber that very same day.

This month, our attendees were Pamela Nelson from Music Arts Productions, a company providing an enormous array of live entertainment productions including string quartets, bagpipes, DJs, jazz combos and so forth (; Mike Dodge from Carroll Electric Cooperative, a member of the Chamber Board of Directors wh reminded us that CECC offers free home energy audits for customers (; Ann Williams and Lucia Guillen from Northwest Arkansas Head Start (, which currently serves more than 500 children and families and seeks to improve their lives every single day; and Holly Mang, owner of Brick Street Botanical in Historic Downtown Rogers, a new and thriving small business owner with an intriguing, unique shop specializing in a natural approach to floral design and plants (

In talking with this small group, we learned about the effectiveness of our programs for non-profits, utilities and small businesses as well as areas where we can improve, and our attendees made meaningful connections and left with a thorough understanding of how the Chamber can be their very best ally. To us, that's what it is all about - improving the state of the business community every single day, and helping our members maximize the value of their membership investment. The last thing we want to do is collect a membership check without a connection and service to our members.

We'd love to have you attend a focus group if you have not already received your invitation or found time to attend. Contact Marni Rogers, our Customer Service guru, at 479-619-3194 or Lunch is on us, and we believe that it will be meaningful for you. At the very least, you can give us some feedback on better serving you as we work toward our goal of Growing Business, Building Community.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Have an opinion? Don't keep it to yourself!

We mentioned leadership programs in an earlier post (, but it seems appropriate to revisit the topic given the comments from the two mayors who met with one of our NWA Emerging Leaders ( workgroups a week ago. They said the obvious: their council chambers (and mailboxes) are full when people are opposed to something, but empty when they are for it.

It brings up a critical problem that every community faces: awareness and engagement in community planning, political and government affairs and business issues. Both mayors implored our emerging leaders to get involved, even if it meant taking turns attending city council and community meetings and reporting to others.

Once in a while, issues arise for city council or mayoral consideration that seem like "no-brainers." As such, no one shows up to support them, and one lone detractor (or a group of disgruntled individuals who look at the short-term rather than long-term outcomes) can derail issues that are of benefit to the greater community. As Mayor Womack put it: "if you emerging leaders will attend city council meetings, for example, you can assess issues where your city leadership might encounter some whitewater and use a grassroots effort to inform and engage your peers and the community. That can make all the difference."

We see it locally with bond issues and school millage elections, nationally with candidates for office and a million places in between. Another point raised by the mayors counteracts the statement we all hear often that "there are no good politicians." Most people do not run for political office with anything but the best of intentions. Admittedly, some lose their path. But by all means, do not complain about the process, the politicians or the problem if you're not willing to participate.

It's one of the reasons we still get excited about the political process at the Chamber - each and every individual can affect it personally. The idea that your feedback, your ideas or your vote don't matter is antiquated, and certainly not characteristic of the future. Don't assume that "good" ideas will pass, or that the "right" candidate will be elected. It's not your position or your opinion that matters to us - it is your participation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Dining Deals, and deals in general

We've been having fun at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce with a recent program designed to support local restaurants, which we mentioned on the blog back in April (

The program has been running smoothly for the past few months, and it seemed like a good time to remind the public to get out and take advantage of these NWA Dining Deals! Just visit (or the Chamber's website, and check out the posted dining deals. The coupons are available to member businesses as well as the general public, and member restaurants can participate at no charge (for details, contact Dana Mather at 479-619-3182 or

We plug it regularly, but one of the other neat features available to members as well as the public is our e-coupons. Visit and click on "Business Directory" - it is extremely helpful! You can click on categories to find access to lists of literally hundreds of businesses by type (looking for a dentist? accountant? salon?), and you'll also have access to all our e-coupons across dozens of categories.

While you're there, check out the BusinessConnect tool - it can save you dozens of phone calls and time searching websites. Just put in the specifics on a need you might have either personally or for your business (brochure printing, granite countertops, catering, a banquet or meeting space) and we will advise any of our 2,053 member businesses who can assist. They respond directly to you, usually within 24 - 36 hours! You have to check it out to see how helpful it can be. Again, it's available at in the Business Directory section.

These tools are out there to serve businesses and connect our members with customers - be sure to take advantage of them, and let us know what you think!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ready to lead?

There are so many ways to get engaged and make a difference as a leader in your community, and to positively impact the place where you live, work and play. Sometimes, though, it is easy to mark leadership development as a life goal, but never take any real action toward it. If personal, professional or even political leadership development is on your life list, move it to an action item. Here are two avenues:

Leadership Benton County is a program offered in partnership by the Bentonville/Bella Vista, Rogers-Lowell and Siloam Springs chambers of commerce. Intended to serve as training ground for future leaders, it's an excellent way to develop skills, connections and community knowledge. Participants commit to one Thursday per month during the nine month program (August - May) along with a couple of in-state overnight trips. Applications and information on the class of 2009-2010 are currently available at, and aps are due by Friday, July 10. If it isn't a fit for you or you've already participated, share the link with a team member, friend or other rising star and encourage them to apply!

NWA Emerging Leaders is a relatively new program envisioned as a substantive program for dedicated professionals who wish to be actively engaged in the Northwest Arkansas community, and serves as an ideal springboard for graduates of Leadership Benton County looking to plug in (LBC participation is not required). NWAEL consists of quarterly programs with active workgroups tackling issues and projects of importance to members. The program is intended to create legacy through succession planning, develop candidates for public and private boards and commissions and groom individuals to serve and lead our dynamic communities. While it is an initiative of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, chamber membership is not required for participation. Find more information or apply at, or follow the group at

Case in point:
This morning, one of the Emerging Leaders workgroups met with Rogers Mayor Steve Womack and Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin. The ensuing dialogue on existing and planned recycling and sustainability initiatives in both communities as well as opportunities for bright talent and emerging leaders to plug in was exciting to observe. Best of all, both Mayors captured the essence of the program: the opportunity to share their enthusiasm for service and leadership as well as their tips on success and a few battle wounds with eager young professionals. These emerging leaders can not only support their current leaders and engage others, they will be groomed in the process to serve or run for office themselves. It's exhillerating to watch a concept or idea being executed: here was a group of ready, willing and able new talent who were as anxious to listen and learn from these established community leaders as they were to slowly, respectfully begin the process of preparing themselves and their peers to take the helm.

Jump in, learn, serve and lead!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dive into social media to better your business!

It's been very gratifying to be able to serve our members by brokering information about social media as an absolutely free marketing tool to grow their businesses. This is a no-brainer for the Chamber, since we have always positioned ourselves as a clearinghouse of information for our member businesses. It's exciting to see our staff helping both members and the general public understand these tools.

In fact, literally as I type this I am listening to our Director of Workforce and Small Business, Gretchen Laffoon, explain to a job seeker that LinkedIn is an "online resume that is changing the face of job hunting." I agree - think of it as your virtual business card.

To many, social media is written off as the fad of the day. In fact, an article by Steve Millard in the Summer 2009 issue of Chamber Executive magazine regarding social media reads:

The topic might surface at a staff meeting, or in a board discussion, or at a workshop... and all of a sudden, someone is saying how their chamber needs to do this "social media thing." The twenty-something program coordinator looks up with a glimmer in her eye - after all, it's about time! The senior leaders and volunteer leaders over fifty arch their eyebrows and wonder aloud what the value of getting involved with this new type of tool will be, while those in between are both excited and vexed about what it all means for their chamber and their members.

Here's the next sentence in Millard's article, and it is a gem:

These are the same types of conversations we were having just ten to fifteen years ago regarding websites and email! And in most cases, we all came through that evolution reasonably well.

At the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, we don't see social media as a way to make a buck or position ourselves as expert in something we are not. We DO see an absolutely incredible opportunity to serve our members by offering easy, painless access to information (in layman's terms!) on how to use social media to the benefit of your business. While there are plenty of purely social sites out there, we focus on what works for professionals and businesses.

And here's the caveat: we're not tech wizards or media experts, but we do know where you're coming from. Let us help you navigate the social media waters (and save you plenty of time in doing so). Whether you've explored these tools a little or don't have the foggiest idea what they are and how to use them, this is a learning environment for every level. Join us at our next workshop on July 24 by registering here:

Monday, June 15, 2009

No, seriously - get your booth NOW for this event!

Ok, so we have repeatedly ( and and perhaps even maniacally mentioned the Northwest Arkansas Business Conference & Expo scheduled for August 6. You know, you get it.

And while August is a long way off and may give you unpleasant thoughts of the end of summer and back-to-school time, you have to face the music: time is running out to participate in this fantastic event!  Admittedly, we are a bit biased since it is our event, but our enthusiasm is sincere.

The keynote and luncheon speakers are falling into place (promise, you'll love them!), the seminars are just about finalized, and all in all it is stacking up to be a phenomenal (and inexpensive) day with positive impact for business people throughout Northwest Arkansas and the state, whether a one-person shop or a 500 person team.  You must attend.

More importantly, however, the Expo portion of the event is just about full!  We are now sold out on all Class A, B and C booths... except the booths that come with a handful of remaining sponsorships!  There is just ONE Business After Hours sponsorship remaining ($1,500, includes microphone time and a prime Class A booth), THREE gold sponsorships ($1,000, includes a class A booth) and THREE silver sponsorships ($750, includes a class B booth).  

Additionally, we have a couple of session sponsorships remaining ($650, includes microphone time with 30 - 50 business people attending the session PLUS the opportunity to distribute information about your business).

Granted, it's part of our job (and our commitment to businesses of all sizes) to put on this event and sell booths and sponsorships.  Seriously, though, you will regret it if you do not showcase your business in the Expo portion of the event.  Tickets will be available up to the event day (, but jump now to grab a spot to highlight your business.

As Brian Solis states in this excerpt from his article "Fear Kills Businesses, Dead" on TechCrunch (

Businesses, and customers, do not stop making decisions—they’re just more discerning during volatile economic climates. But make no mistake, if you choose to stop vying for customer attention, the world will move ahead without you.

This is your time to vault in front of your competition, to earn rapid and sweeping visibility, for a fraction of the time and money that was required to excel during the “good days.”

Your rivals are retreating right now, so what are you going to do about it?

Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu advised in The Art of War:

When weak, feign strength…Attack him [your enemy] where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Whoever inspires you, remember, tomorrow’s leaders are born, tested, and proven, today. This is your moment.

So, you'll be there with your product, your service, your business cards and your sales pitch, right?  See you at the Northwest Arkansas Business Conference & Expo on August 6!

Northwest Arkansas ranked #2 in U.S. for recession recovery!

Here's what ( said about Northwest Arkansas:

Cities poised for a rebound--and cities with a long slog ahead.

The three most important things in real estate: location, location, location.

It's true for recovery from a real estate bubble too. Overall, many economists expect the national economy to return to growth later in 2009, perhaps as soon as this summer. But that won't be the case everywhere. While some cities are poised for a quick rebound, others face a slog to recovery that could take years.

To find the 10 cities that look best poised for recovery (and the 10 cities likely looking at the longest climb back), we examined estimates from data provider Moody's of the projected gross domestic product of metropolitan areas across the U.S., as well as unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and home prices, incomes and affordability data from the National Association of Home Builders. Because, in general, healthy cities were not victims of as severe a housing collapse, home prices were not used in ranking the cities poised for recovery.

#2.  Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Arkansas

Current GDP: $13.9 billion

End of 2010: $14.5 billion (projected)

Unemployment: 5%

What better way to sit pretty during a recession than to have the ultimate recession-proof company headquartered in your neighborhood. The Fayetteville region is home to Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart. Wall Street may be struggling, but the presence of the world's most powerful retailer keeps northwest Arkansas' business community humming.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why do we care about the magic number?

So, there's a reason we're excited about surpassing the 2,000 member milestone at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, but it has nothing to do with being the biggest chamber in Arkansas.  That's definitely interesting, but it isn't what matters.

We care because it means that we work on behalf of 2,040 member businesses representing 4,037 individuals doing business in Northwest Arkansas.  It means that business is good in our community, and growing better by the minute.  It means the number of potential connections and prospective customers our member businesses may capitalize upon is virtually unlimited.  It means our capacity to effectively serve and monitor the pulse of the business community is enhanced.  And, we care because representing more than 2,000 businesses carries remarkable impact as we advocate issues on behalf of the Northwest Arkansas Business community at the Arkansas State Capitol, in Washington D.C. and throughout the region.

A dynamic, growing membership base is also an excellent indicator of the growth and strength of the local business community.  This may be the most exciting part.  While we love seeing positive signs of economic recovery at the national level (Associated Press: 90% of economists expect the recession to end this year:; Bloomberg: consumer confidence jumps by most in six years: as well as the local level (Arkansas Business: consumer confidence soars:, a steady flow of new businesses and new members is an excellent, practical measure of the state of the local economy.

So, to our member businesses, thank you!  More members = more connections and business opportunities for you, and more ways for us to serve you and help you thrive.  No matter what the numbers say, that's what we're here to do every single day.  Thank you for your support and your continued membership!

Here's a link to some press coverage of the milestone:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ready for your business to thrive rather than just survive?

We are tremendously excited around the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce of late regarding the NWA Business Conference & Expo scheduled for August 6.  Granted, we're pretty excited about everything we do for our member businesses, but this is different.  This is BIG!

As previously mentioned in a teaser back in February (, the NWA Business Conference & Expo will be a world-class event offered in partnership with the Arkansas World Trade Center and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.  What makes the NWA Busines Conference & Expo presented by Sam's Club ( and Your Community Phone Book ( so exciting this year is the combination of seminars and keynote speakers along with an  Expo presented by Cherokee Casino ( showcasing businesses, products and services.  It's going to be a fantastic, one-stop business-building shop.

It's hard to contain our enthusiasm over the international component for the event as well, afforded by the engagement of the Arkansas World Trade Center.  The day will include seminars and presentations from international-caliber speakers with topics related to three dedicated tracks: Small Business, General Business and International Business.  

This year's keynote speaker sponsored by Cox Communications will be Clyde Fessler, former VP Business Development for Harley Davidson Motor Company.  His story of marketing what has become one of the most recognized brands in the world and turning around a company on the brink of bankruptcy is inspiring and appropriate for businesses of every size.  Stay tuned for a fantastic event publication from the NWA Business Journal in late July, as well.  We encourage businesses to register no later than June 12 to be included.

The schedule of events will be available soon at, where you'll also find additional information as well as keynote tickets, all-accesspasses, booths, sponsorships and more details.  Or, call the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce at 479-636-1240 - any member of our staff can help you!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chamber reps visit D.C. to promote local issues, thank legislators

16 Chamber members and staff have just returned from a visit to Washington D.C. to promote the Chamber's 2009 Legislative Agenda during visits with U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and U.S. Representative John Boozman.

The group thanked Lincoln and Boozman for opposing the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, or “Card Check.” (More information is available at , or visit or ).

Many small businesses are not familiar with this dangerous legislation, or believe that it only impacts "big business and industry," not understanding its potential effect on small businesses. Visit the websites above for details!

While in D.C., the Chamber delegation met with all three legislators and covered additional topics of interest to the Chamber including the Bella Vista Bypass and other transportation projects, workers’ compensation, Mark to Market, and the Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority. While in town, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provided a briefing on transportation, health care, labor and international trade, and the group also participated in activities organized by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Support our restaurants (so we can keep them)!

We have been so fortunate (ok, deliberate) in attracting world-class dining establishments ranging from well-known national chains to unique local restaurants to our community. But if we want to keep all this variety, we have to put our money where our mouths are, or maybe our forks...

With that in mind, we've been working at the Chamber on a new BuyNWA initiative to support our member restaurants, which we'll officially launch on May 1. (Not familiar with BuyNWA? Visit!)

1. We will mail and e-mail lists of member restaurants to our members and make them available to the public via our website and social media to as a reminder of our community's vast choices. These lists will reach more than 2,010 member businesses through our monthly newsletter (4,200 recipients) and weekly e-mail (2,750 recipients).

2. We will prominently feature restaurant lists on our websites and social media. The public asks us where to eat – we want to help them find restaurants throughout our community!

3. Best of all, we will promote and distribute electronic and printed coupons for our member restaurants at no charge to you! To participate, visit the Members Only section of or contact Shelle Summers (479.619.3187 or

In addition, look for our Ambassadors About Town dining monthly as a group at member restaurants (don't worry, they’ll call ahead). We are truly excited about the potential benefit to our restaurants, and encourage you to support them! Let us know what you think.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Grow Your Business Without Spending Money and Time!

Sound too good to be true? Wait until you see what we have up our sleeves for our member businesses to help you survive and thrive in this economy. We understand that as much as you’d like to attend seminars and attend networking events, it’s hard to justify leaving your business to grow your business. We get it!

In 2008, we launched BuyNWA, an initiative to support local businesses and stimulate the economy (visit for more information). We promised phase two of BuyNWA in early 2009… here it is! We’ve launched half a dozen FREE new for our member businesses:

1. $$ BusinessConnect Tool
We receive dozens of requests from individuals seeking catering, printing, meeting space, you name it. Now those bids and requests will be online so YOU can respond! Members and the public may fill out the BusinessConnect Request on,
and requests are posted on our website and e-mailed to appropriate member businesses! For more information:

Member AID Videos
No matter how much you’d love to attend our seminars to help your business, you can’t leave your business to attend, right? Soon you’ll be able to view online videos on advertising seminars, workshops and technology to benefit your business - stay tuned!

Member News
You’ve got exciting news, and you want to tell our other 2,010 member businesses! Let everyone know about a new office, an open house or a prestigious award! Member News updates are posted online, and links are sent to our 2,750 weekly e-mail recipients. For more information on submitting news or to read current news:

4. LinkedIn
Use the fastest-growing online professional network in the world to build your business and show your credibility – link to the Rogers-Lowell Chamber profile! People are more likely to do business with chamber members, and you can benefit from our connections! Members, join our group here:

5. Twitter
It’s a little cutting edge, but the possibilities are endless. Follow the Chamber’s “tweets” on Twitter, and stumble on new connections and ideas in the process! Trust us, you have to try it to understand it!

6. Chamber Blog
Wait, you're already onto this! Follow informal, conversational posts on our newest efforts and ideas through the Rogers-Lowell Chamber blog. What’s in it for you? Up-to-the-minute information and a chance to give us feedback on what works, and what else you need to succeed!

That was a lot to process, wasn’t it? Don’t worry if you’re confused or overwhelmed – we promise, it’s all easier than it sounds! Just call us and we will (slowly!) walk you through all of these new membership tools. We’re also offering free workshops to explore these topics. For more information, contact Beth Stephens (479.619.3192 or

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Completing your to-do list without lifting a finger...

Please excuse us as we try (in vain) to control our enthusiasm about our new BusinessConnect Tool! Seriously, it is a fantastic resource for our member businesses and the general public!

Here's the gist of it: businesses and individuals can save time by posting requests online, and member businesses will respond directly to you to give you bids, estimates or provide the services requested! This delivers excellent opportunities for member businesses to drive sales, and Chamber staff monitor requests and responses from member businesses to ensure timeliness.

It's truly painless. Just visit the Business Directory on (While you're there, be sure to check out the category listing of all our member businesses as well as the e-coupons!) Click on "Submit BusinessConnect Request" and put in all your wishes, and as soon as we receive it we will e-mail it to our members to respond. Trust us, you'll want to bookmark the page:

One of our staff members used the BusinessConnect tool for a printing quote on business cards for her husband's new venture. Within a couple of hours, they had detailed responses and quotes from five businesses, saving them dozens of phone calls. They commented on how impressed they were by the timely follow up on such a seemingly small request.

Examples of requests using BusinessConnect might include printing bids, catering for an event or open house, home services and repairs or a banquet or meeting facility.

Pretty cool, huh? We have always been proud of our ability to generate so many inquiries and potential business connections for our members, but this takes the "potential" part right out and leads to direct business opportunities. Love it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ready to stimulate the economy?

We have a theory at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. Prepare yourself: it is a little bit Pollyanna-ish. We honestly believe that local action can affect big change. Take the economy as a starting point: can we change it across America tomorrow? Probably not. Can we stimulate positive changes that help local businesses and, in turn, serve as the first steps toward national (and international) recovery? Absolutely.

Step 1: Good news. It's out there, but you have to listen carefully to find it with all the rhetoric and background noise. Here's a start: mortgage rates are lower than the nation has seen in decades, and can potentially place dollars in consumers' pockets resulting in spending, which could in turn jump start the economy. Need more good news to get your motor running?

Try this: we are seeing significant inquiries at the Rogers-Lowell Chamber and throughout the community related to small business start-ups, job creation and economic development prospects. Our region's growth may have slowed with the housing market crisis and other economic stressors, but Northwest Arkansas is still a growing, nationally-competitive place to do business (and enjoy life and raise a family). Case(s) in point:

1. Cryovac, Inc. - a subsidiary of Sealed Air Corporation in Rogers - announced 21 - 24 new jobs thanks to a business expansion last month, with a total economic impact for our community of more than $1.5 million.

2. Don's Cold Storage and Transportation in Rogers is adding more than 20 competitive jobs with an expansion representing more than $7 million in economic impact for our community.

3. Enformix Technology Services will move 40 jobs to Historic Downtown Rogers upon completion of upgrades to its new facility. The company is expert in IT strategy development and information technology, particularly in the field of long-term care.

4. NWA ranked #4 on Forbes list of best places for business and careers: Make no mistake: the heading is Fayetteville, but one glance at the population listed makes clear that these are accolades for Northwest Arkansas, and every one of our sister cities in the region has cause to celebrate!

Don't misunderstand - it's still tough in the current economic climate, and many businesses are struggling and will continue to struggle well into the coming months. But it feels good to dwell on the positive for a moment, doesn't it?

Step 2: Marketing. Whatever your position, whatever your business - it's critical. The best analogy would be Promote or Die, to adapt a line from a Chamber long-termer. When the economy contracts and things are tight, it's human nature to curtail expenses, but for the good of your business, don't irrationally cut marketing, promotion and advertising expenditures. It has often been said that those who strike while the iron is hot or, in this case, advertise in a down economy while their competitors are cutting back, have the best opportunity to thrive.

If you find yourself and your business in a situation where you have to cut back, by all means don't hide in your cave. As members of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce or any other good chamber, you can still capitalize on dozens of free opportunities to market your business at no charge through business-building networking events. It will still require an investment on your part, but of time and not cash. That's time well well spent if it helps your business, isn't it?

Thanks for reading - share your good news, and be sure to connect with the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce to share your comments and feeback. Find us on LinkedIn ( and Twitter (@RLACC) and give us your two cents!