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!