In the past decade, chambers of commerce have evolved into an economic force. No longer just sophisticated cheerleaders for cities and states, many chambers now create and implement job training programs, loan funds and more. Here's a roundup of some innovative chamber programs around the country.
Syracuse, New York: To fill a financing gap among promising young firms, the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce created the Greater Syracuse Business Development Corp. and, along with it, the $800,000 Central New York Quasi-Equity Fund. Manufacturers with solid business plans, strong management teams and viable ideas or products who have completed research and development and are ready to go to market can apply for up to $200,000 in financing. The fund also targets firms that plan to generate a substantial amount of their revenue outside the central New York area. Get more information by calling (315) 470-1887.
New Haven, Connecticut: The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce has created a small-business division and a homebased business council for its members. The goal for both is to provide the unique services, educational programs and assistance members need, and to give them voices in policy-making at the chamber. An e-commerce group is also in its formative stages. Call (203) 782-4323 for more information.
Kalamazoo, Michigan: Internet stores and malls are nothing new in the world of cyberspace, but the Kazoostore (http://www.kazoostore.com), operated by the Kalamazoo County Chamber of Commerce, is one of the standard-bearers among chambers. Members pay a $100 annual fee and are allowed to sell up to 12 products. The store carries merchandise unique to Kalamazoo; the primary market is local residents. For more information, call (616) 381-4000.
Tulsa, Oklahoma: The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce contracts with manufacturers to train employees through a program called the Industrial Exchange Index Inc. In addition to basic on-the-job instruction, workers receive computer education and life-skills assistance covering such areas as nutrition, parenting, work ethic and so on. Find out more by calling (918) 587-5307.
California: Customer service can make or break a business, but not all small businesses can afford to do the research or hire firms needed to evaluate their services. Ten chambers in California and two others in Virginia and Illinois are taking advantage of a program created by ValueStar Inc., a company that researches customer satisfaction with business services. Chamber members can get a free market research survey, gauging customer satisfaction, from ValueStar. Those companies that want to use the results as part of their marketing packet can then license the reports for $995 per year, with a full money-back guarantee. In addition, when ValueStar customers renew their chamber membership, they qualify to have a portion of their chamber dues paid by ValueStar. For information, contact your local chamber or call (800) 300-2338.