Muskegon Chamber unveils goals for 2009

February 15, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — Five new board members, plus goals and strategies for 2009 — including the goal of increasing the number of women- and minority-owned businesses — have been announced by Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce.

Named to the 15-person board are Ed Garner, Muskegon Area First; Tracy Bailey, Huntington Bank; Larry Hines, Hines Corp.; Mike Olthoff, Nichols Paper and Supply; and Jason Piasecki, Qonverge.

Outgoing board members are Camille Jourden-Mark, Michigan’s Adventure; Bob Cutler, Muskegon Brake; and Gary Post, Port City Construction & Development Services LLC.

“We are proud to have the area’s most respected business leaders on our board guiding our activities,” said Larsen.

 Wes Eklund, president of Fleet Engineers and chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, said the most valuable chamber assets are its volunteers.

"These individuals have invested their valuable resources; their time and talent to support a cause they believe in — the mission of the chamber,” said Eklund.

The Muskegon Area Chamber has a full slate of goals for 2009 and strategies for achieving them. As in previous years, the chamber publishes the goals set by each of its committees, which include Government Affairs, Community Promotions, Diversity, Ambassador, Entrepreneur and Events. The chamber has over 1,200 members representing all sectors of the Muskegon area economy, according to Larsen.

This year, the chamber published all of the committee’s goals and strategies in one comprehensive document — the 2009 Strategic Plan, which can be found on its Web site, www.muskegon.org. On the home page, open the drop-down menu under About the Chamber and click on Community Leadership for a link to the 2009 plan.

The first goal listed is "increase the utilization of and help to grow women and minority-owned businesses," and the first strategic step toward that goal will be to update and place online the Women- and Minority-Owned Business Directory.

Larsen said the directory has been online in the past but a whole new system was recently put in place for the chamber database, so the directory has to be updated before it is added. Updating that information has to be done "the hard way," she said, by canvassing the business community to find out which businesses are women- and minority-owned.

"That's not information you can easily get your hands on," said Larsen.

There are a number of strategies spelled out for achieving the first goal, including "Promote Business Case for Cultural Competency."

Larsen said competency in this case is being "astute and inclusive," to support the "concept of making sure we are a community that's welcoming to all."

There is an obvious business case in that, she noted: "If you have a product you're marketing, you have to be sure your marketing message appeals to all cultures or you might be missing a huge segment of the potential customer base."

For example, there might be a lot of buying power in the Hispanic community, "so making sure you have information (about your product) available in Spanish could be very important."

To help increase the numbers of minority professionals in Muskegon County, the chamber will host two multicultural meet-and-greet events, one focused specifically on interns at area businesses and organizations.

Another major goal is to provide chamber members with opportunities to develop relationships with elected officials. Strategies in support of that goal will include a tour hosted by the chamber for elected officials from other communities.

Larsen said the Muskegon Area Chamber has organized tours of the Muskegon area in the past for appointed government officials, such as city managers and township supervisors, but not for elected officials. She said they are expanding the focus to include elected officials throughout the Muskegon region because the chamber is a county-wide organization and "there were a lot of new people elected into local offices this year."

"We want to go beyond the city manager and township supervisor," and "make sure we're inviting people who are new to office — anyone who is interested in finding out more about what's happening in Muskegon County today."

"We'll do that when the weather is nice. We traditionally do things like that in the spring and early fall," said Larsen. In the past, the chamber has brought in tour groups comprised of members of specifically targeted individuals, such as business owners in Grand Rapids and real estate sales professionals.

"The best way to sell Muskegon is to show Muskegon," said Larsen. "We can talk about it all day long, but when people actually see the changes that have taken place, that’s when they get excited about the future of our community."

Another goal will be to influence government to "make pro-business decisions, creating a positive climate for economic success." A strategy in support of that goal is to advocate for state-of-the-art infrastructure locally, which she said includes the Muskegon airport, public transit, wastewater treatment, and more.

Infrastructure provides access to commerce, so there's a connection between the level of commerce a region can support and the infrastructure there, Larsen said.

Larsen also noted that infrastructure today includes telecommunications.

Infrastructure is more important than ever, she added.

"Especially right now, in light of the Obama stimulus packages that are being discussed. What we want to do, in our government affairs committee, is make sure we get as much of that infrastructure support dollars into our community as possible, for the benefit of business."

Too often, said Larsen, people in general "take for granted how important community infrastructure is in helping business to succeed."

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