President of the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce offers perspectives.
Posted By Brad Walker
Chamber president Ann Welton offered perspectives on how the Chamber has fared during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as shared information about new initiatives underway during these changing times. The large events normally offered by the Chamber have either had to be postponed, downsized, or reinvented, she said. “The dominoes started falling after March 12,” Ann said. “We realized then that we couldn’t do what we do best: bringing people together.” Over the past few months, the staff has further realized that this is “not a time to ‘re’ + ‘a verb’; it’s time to create a new business model for today’s environment,” she said. “We can’t just be connectors exclusively; we must look at everything differently.”
Adjusting their perspective, staff then examined the Chamber’s threefold mission: to represent businesses; to serve the community; and to enhance the quality of life. Through that lens came the Chamber’s newest vision of a more diverse club. In June, they created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee which, in turn, developed the 2020/2021 Community Connection Program. In this program, participants from the Leadership Wake Forest cohort (LWF, formed in fall 2019) collaborate with local minority business owners (MBO) who meet eligibility requirements. With an Oct. 15 deadline, members from both groups have now formed into small teams of four or five, to meet monthly from November 2020 to April 2021. They will focus on ways to improve opportunities for minority business owners in the Wake Forest area.
By “leveling the playing field” somewhat, Ann said the venture’s end-goal should be reached by June: MBO’s will be aware of what’s happening in Wake Forest while LWF’s will have “walked in their [counterparts’] shoes” for nearly a year. Further, she hopes that participating MBO’s will participate in next year’s LWF training program.
Not unexpectedly, Chamber membership fell from 700 in March to “rock bottom” in May but has currently risen to just over 600, Ann noted. While things began looking better in September and October, she said the experience has taught Chamber staff that they cannot depend on membership for revenue. Thus, there’s more emphasis now on the Chamber’s Charitable Foundation 501.3.C established several years ago which supports leadership training for both adults and youth. Additionally, through these programs and Launch Wake Forest, the Chamber has been building a “bench of experts” for the future. “It’s a new way of looking at Chamber connections and the overall economic engine,” Ann said. “We have to be intentional.”