Chamber to unveil new image

Friday, September 28, 2007 at 1:33am

A year after the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce named Ralph Schulz its new president, the economic development organization will announce changes to its image and mission statement at a membership meeting Oct. 9 where it says a “new” Chamber will be unveiled.

Schulz said the changes will reflect several organizational and program adjustments the Chamber has undergone since he took the helm in October 2006.

The reworkings include paring down the Chamber’s Board of Directors by half — a cut the Board approved last June in an effort to focus the Chamber’s leadership — opening up the Chamber’s policy committees to non-board members, and an intention by the Chamber to involve itself in more civic matters.

Schulz said he made boosting the Chamber’s membership — which has steadied after a heavy decline — a priority as soon as he took his post, visiting local businesses and asking, “What would cause you to join the Chamber, what would cause you to remain in the Chamber and what would cause you to recommend the Chamber as a place for others to join?”

He said the changes he will outline at next month’s meeting are the results of this effort.

“We’re refining our target a little bit there to make sure that we’re giving everybody a good opportunity to have that opportunity to promote their business at Chamber events… and through Chamber publications and through sponsorship programs that associate relevant businesses with things that are going on at the Chamber,” Schulz said.

From 2006 to 2007, only 87 percent of Chamber members renewed their membership. But the number is 6 percent higher than the renewal rate the prior year. The change has improved the Chamber’s revenue outlook along with several cost-cutting measures that have been implemented, Schulz said.

Schulz said the Chamber is also “trying to find a more activist, focused role” in civic matters — coming at them from a business perspective. He pointed to the organization’s involvement with the Metro school system’s recent crafting of a new strategic plan and to former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry’s recent appointment as CEO of the Nashville Chamber Public Benefit Foundation, an organization that, among other activities facilitates long-term public-private efforts to improve social ills such as crime, poverty and problems with the education system.

“The Chamber’s a big resource to the community, and we want to make sure, in a focused way, we’re a participant in the solutions,” Schulz said. “In some cases, we’ll be in a leadership role. In other cases, we’ll be more of a participant that sort of links the business community with the issues.”

Schulz said the recent changes to the Chamber’s Board and committee structure will play a part in the “new Chamber.”

In June, the Chamber Board cut its size in half, from 69 members to 34, and at the same time adopted a comprehensive set of new governance policies and procedures.

With the vote, the Board eliminated most of its policy committees, although it maintained three standing committees — the Executive, Governance and Audit/Finance committees. It also created a mechanism for chartering new committees — such as a proposed “Policy Advisory Committee,” a “Transportation Committee” and several reformulated area business councils.

Since Schulz took his CEO post, the Chamber has hired and replaced several executives, hiring Gentry, appointing former Purcell administrator Marc Hill its chief education officer, Debbie Dale Mason its chief community action officer, and hiring a new communications director, Perri DuGard Owens.

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