Chamber alters its structure for the new year

December 6, 2012

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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After receiving feedback from its members, the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce will hire a part-time executive director in an effort to increase its presence in the Newcastle business community.

A 2011 survey put out by the chamber asked its members whether it would like to see more networking events, and if so, would they be willing to pay higher dues to foot the bill.

“We got an overwhelming response saying that they wanted more opportunities,” said Angela Wingate, chairwoman of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce.

An executive director will allow the chamber to enhance its member services, Wingate said. It will be the executive director’s job to find ways to provide more programs, networking opportunities and general benefits for chamber members.

“The chamber is a unique way for businesses to be able to promote themselves because it’s more of a personalized approach in meeting with people and being able to network,” Wingate said. “Besides the chamber, there are no other opportunities here in Newcastle for businesses to get to know each other and help support each other.”

The chamber is expected to hire an executive director in January.

“We are hoping to kick off the new year and work on getting that person up and running for 2013,” she said.

Once an executive director is in place, members can expect to see more after-hours networking events, Wingate said.

“We are looking at increasing the number of after-hours events for businesses and also morning networking opportunities because we know businesspeople have different schedules and not everybody can make our monthly luncheons,” she said.

One new service that Wingate said she is eager to provide is a business directory and welcome basket for residents new to the Newcastle community.

“It will give the chamber a chance to help welcome somebody to the Newcastle area and let them know about all that the businesses have to offer,” she said.

It is common for active chambers to provide welcome materials and a community business directory, but with its current structure, the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce just did not have the time to offer this service, Wingate said.

“We need someone that’s paid in order to do this, because it’s a lot of work,” she said.

While the executive director will help the chamber provide more services, the cost of the improvement will be seen in an increase in membership dues.

The chamber is expected to adopt a tiered membership system, Wingate said. For example, small businesses will be asked to pay $185 a year. It’s a steep jump from the current price of $50 a year, but Wingate said she hopes the increased networking opportunities will more than make up for the cost.

“That cost per year, especially for a small business, we see that as adding more than the value of that dollar in terms of the opportunities for them to be able to get out there and network in Newcastle,” she said.

In addition to the tiered membership, the chamber will also have a sponsorship system where businesses can choose to sponsor chamber events.

“We’re trying to be cognizant of keeping our costs low and making sure they are reasonable,” Wingate said. “The cost is less than other chambers in the region, so we’re still very, very low, but we do have to increase it in order to pay for a staff person.”

The chamber’s board members are all very excited for the change and hopeful that others will be too, Wingate said.

“I’ve been on the board going on four years, and it’s come around to where we are at a critical point for growth,” she said. “I just hope everybody comes together and helps to support this effort because without them, we can’t make this happen.”

 

On the web

Learn more about the changes to the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and what that means for membership dues at www.newcastlecc.com.

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