Our view: Time to rebuild chamber

September 20, 2012 11:32:11 AM



Certainly, parts of the recently-proposed Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority -- especially the amount and methods of funding for the new organization -- need to be explored further, but the plan will almost certainly come to fruition. A very capable steering committee made up of leaders from the three counties has spent a significant amount of time crafting a well thought out plan and people are generally willing to bet on Columbus-Lowndes Development Link CEO Joe Higgins based on his past success. 


Higgins will lead the new organization, which is expected to be fully functional by October 2014. At the Link quarterly luncheon on Wednesday, Higgins stressed the new organization would be focused on selling the region as a whole, while each community would be responsible for making themselves as attractive as possible for both relocating companies and for the resulting employees. Each community would run their own chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau and main street program.  


We think this approach is wise. Higgins has a laser-like focus on creating primary jobs -- and he has a great record of doing just that. He isn't great at quality of life issues.  


West Point and Clay County outsourced their economic development to the Link earlier this year and have already reorganized the Growth Alliance to oversee their Main Street Association and their Chamber. 


The Greater Starkville Development Partnership has been strong on quality of life programs but weak on economic development. Their Chamber, CVB and Main Street programs already work hand-in-hand under the GSDP umbrella. Presumably, the three could continue to operate with very little change.  


Since the creation of the Link, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce has taken a back seat to primary job creation. What will the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce look like post-Link? How will it be funded? Who will run it? Can we retain successful programs like Leadership Lowndes that foster the development of our young business leaders? Does it make sense to put our CVB, Main Street and Chamber under one roof so we can have a single, unified voice in marketing Columbus and Lowndes County? 


A strong Chamber is essential to looking after the interests of local businesses. They can lobby local governments on behalf of business, help provide marketing solutions to small businesses and foster the development of businessmen and women. 


While Higgins and the steering committee plan a top-notch industrial development organization, we need to take a fresh look at the way we are luring new residents and small businesses and how we are supporting the ones we already have. The steering committee has Higgins to act as a guiding light. Who do we have to guide our efforts in marketing our community and supporting our small businesses?