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!