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Sept. 19, 2018
This paid piece is sponsored by the Minnehaha County and Lincoln County Economic Development Associations.
Chambers of commerce are known for promoting networking.
In the Sioux Falls metro area, though, the chambers themselves are leading by example.
For the past two years, representatives of Brandon, Dell Rapids, Harrisburg, Hartford and Sioux Falls have met quarterly to share ideas and find ways to work together.
It has created a strong sense of partnership and collaboration, said Amy Meert Farr, who represents the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It is important because we all want what is best for our communities, and meeting helps us get a different perspective on ideas and challenges that we may or may not have faced,” she said. “It is a united front. We only want what is best for each other’s chambers and communities.”
A conversation between Farr and Brandon Valley Area Chamber president Kim Cerwick led the two to expand their dialogue to include the other chambers and make it a regular meeting.
“We are all striving for the same goals of helping communities thrive in a business-friendly environment,” Cerwick said.
While no two chambers are alike, she noted, there are common themes and ways to share challenges and solutions.
“Working for a chamber in a community is a very unique job, one that most in the community don’t understand,” she said. “Being able to … just have someone who understands the struggles of chamber life is both comforting and in some ways a great way to recharge our batteries as we go back to our respective communities.”
As a newer chamber, Harrisburg also has benefited from the group.
“Listening to what has or has not worked in other communities, learning about industry best practices, and absorbing the knowledge that comes from general idea sharing has been extremely helpful and saved us time and resources,” said Adrienne McKeown, president of the Harrisburg Economic Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce.
For instance, the Harrisburg chamber was able to improve its website based on what McKeown learned from other communities.
“That has made managing our memberships so much easier and has allowed our members to take control of updating their own information on the website as well. It’s a time saver for everyone. While we each champion our own communities, when the region wins, we all win. So it’s really in the best interest for each of us to be aware of what is happening in our sister communities.”
The group’s newest member, Dell Rapids Chamber of Commerce administrator Calvin Bloemendaal, said the regional support has helped him greatly in a new role.
He has learned what conferences he should attend, how to approach prospective members and pricing models that work best. The Brandon chamber allowed him to use its member sign-up formats as a template.
“I am very appreciative for having the opportunity to attend these meetings,” he said. “They have made my jump into the chamber world a lot easier, and without them I would not know half of what I do now concerning chambers of commerce. Knowing what is going on outside and around Dell Rapids allows me to look further into the future when planning how we do things.”
When Jesse Fonkert started his role as director of the Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce and Hartford Area Development Corporation, he also acknowledges feeling a little lost.
“Meeting with my counterparts from across the region encouraged me to bring new ideas to the board for their consideration,” he said. “Having the ability to bounce ideas off of experienced professionals allowed me to grow as a leader.”
Because his chamber is just six years old, it’s still creating many of its policies and initiatives, he said. A communication approach he learned in the group has helped him implement new ways of increasing awareness of his chamber, he said.
“Our communities are all competing for a similar demographic – folks that are looking to raise their families in a small town while enjoying all the benefits of Sioux Falls nearby,” Fonkert said. “By sitting down together, we are able to discuss the challenges we all face and find solutions together.”
Because they’re working more closely together, the chambers have held joint ribbon-cutting ceremonies in each other’s communities, promoted networking between their memberships and worked together on the Sioux Falls issues management committee, which added Cerwick and Fonkert as members.
“Being a part of this committee is phenomenal for my chamber as I am able to bring back information pertinent to Brandon,” Cerwick said. “It also shows that the Sioux Falls chamber does want voices of the region, not just inside Sioux Falls, as they work through and make decisions on issues that affect us all.”
This is a chamber networking event unlike any you’ve seen.