REGARDLESS of who is selected to be the next president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, the organization is in for a change.
The most recent holder of the full-time position — Jack Hess — compiled an impressive record in his six-year tenure, most notably the recognition of the local business organization as the state chamber of the year in 2008 and the national chamber of the year in 2009.
In some respects, Hess can be described as irreplaceable, not just because of his particular skill sets but because of the individual — and likely different — qualities his replacement will bring to the job.
While the next president will set the tone for the organization’s direction (board members hope to have an announcement within the next few weeks), steps taken in the five-month interim following Hess’ departure offer clues as to where the chamber officers see it heading.
Although the local office has been without a permanent president since Oct. 31, interim President Tim Cooney and the chamber staff have performed exceptionally in not only sustaining day-to-day operations but in moving forward with initiatives designed to expand both membership and the services available to members.
This user-friendly approach was spotlighted at Tuesday’s annual meeting in a short but exceptionally well done video featuring local business owners and managers testifying on how membership in the chamber has helped their businesses.
The diversity of those featured in both demographics and type of business reflects the changes that are taking place around the globe. Instead of relying on a traditional cast of well-established industrial leaders, the focus of the video was on a mix of smaller businesses, some still in the startup mode.
While the manufacturing sector continues to be the primary driving force in this area’s economy, the video speaks to an opportunity for the chamber to develop and nurture ties with smaller enterprises, some exploring areas separate from the traditional business focus.
The stars of the video frequently returned to the benefits of chamber membership in their testimonies, stressing the availability of mentors within the local business community and the importance of the networking opportunities provided.
The chamber will continue to enjoy benefits from the leadership Cooney has already demonstrated. A chamber member himself and a representative of the small-business sector, he will become the organization’s membership director upon the hiring of the new president.
This shuffling of assignments has a number of benefits for the chamber. It utilizes Cooney’s grass-roots recruiting abilities and gives the new president a running start in guiding the fortunes of the organization in the years to come.