By JIM KENDALL
This material originally appeared as one of Jim’s Daily Herald columns
The chamber of commerce? Yep. Really? Yep again. Still around? Not only still around but in many cases developing programs that are reaching out to – gasp! – the Millennial generation, which, after all, is where the next generation of chamber members and leaders will come from.
Millennials? In the chamber?
Not only in but learning from and sharing their own insights with older members.
It may be a bit of a surprise, but chambers of commerce – at least those with tuned-in leadership – are at least holding their own in spite of a proliferation of alumni, young professionals, and peer and meet-up groups.
“The biggest thing is the networking opportunity,” says Shirlanne Lemm, president and CEO of Itasca-based GOA Regional Business Association, which includes the Elk Grove Village and Itasca chambers. Even with the ease of internet and cell communications, “Nothing beats face-to-face selling,” Lemm says.
“Walk into a room of 100 people (at one of GOA’s networking events) and there’s no better selling experience.” Even Millennials, that much-maligned younger generation, have bought into GOA – partly, according to Lemm, for what they can learn.
“Millennials need to learn how to get past the gatekeepers,” Lemm points out, adding that there is no better way to learn than from business owners who have faced and won that battle.
The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, long a powerhouse in the west suburbs, is experimenting this year with Legacy Circles – three small groups that each has 12 members, six older than 40 and six younger, and meet twice monthly.
“This is a prototype for us,” says Chamber President Nicki Anderson. “We go around the circle, each member talking about challenges,” Anderson says. Baby Boomer members might share their experiences with the under-40 members, “But they also might hear from the Millennials that ‘Your way to reach the marketplace is outdated,’” Anderson says.
“What’s really great is to hear the Millennials sharing their ideas on the work environment, work teams and human resource issues.”
Lemm and Anderson agree there is no one way to keep chamber organizations strong. “We have to know how to engage future leaders,” Anderson says. “Networking has value, but it’s not a draw for someone younger” – though the Legacy Circles seem to have an interesting future.
The Legacy Circles, which Anderson hopes to expand and move from a prototype to regular NACC service in 2017, are intended to bridge what can be a gap between any organization’s older and younger members. A Four Under 40 Achievement Award that recognized younger members scoring achievements in business and community leadership, personal growth and professional development has helped the NACC, too.
Advocacy remains a major commitment for most chambers. For example, GOA Regional hosts small group coffees that allow members to meet and talk with legislative leaders. And Lemm additionally notes that smaller chambers increasingly are “banding together” and jointly hosting events.
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