Bob Duffy: Greater Rochester Chamber takes strides to stay ahead of the curve for community
As I reflect on my time with the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, I couldn’t be prouder of this organization. This is not your grandfather’s Chamber.
We have just completed a brand refresh to stay modern and cutting edge, launched a new website and CRM, codified our organizational values, and are currently in the process of updating our strategic plan. The Chamber team that I’m blessed to work with has exceeded every expectation and continues to do so every single day.
It is important to serve both chamber members, as well as the overall community. That means keeping many of the traditional chamber of commerce initiatives, but also opening up doors, reaching out, and establishing new partnerships to prepare for this challenging but exciting future. Economic development and community development are inextricably linked. You can’t have economic success if you have communities who are suffering. I won’t reiterate the economic data from our region that has been well-documented over the past several years. It’s time now for action, and I am a firm believer that all chambers of commerce play a role.
In today’s challenging world with COVID-19, economic uncertainties, and a shifting political and business climate, chambers of commerce are needed now more than ever. It is also more important than ever that chambers across our region, state and country ensure they are not just staying current but are ahead of the “train of change” that is moving rapidly and will probably never slow down.
Advocating and fighting for members is one of the primary roles of any chamber of commerce, and I’m proud to say we do that every day at the local, regional, statewide, and national levels. That advocacy, led by our Chief of Staff Marc Cohen, is made possible through relationships with elected and appointed officials, with whom we advocate passionately and consistently behind the scenes. We are always respectful, and we are often confidential. We do not rush to take credit for what we do, and we do not communicate outrage through op-ed pieces, press conferences, and social media. We advocate with data, making the proper case for a variety of issues that may sound promising at face value, but could have far-reaching negative impacts. We work with leaders regardless of party or politics, and we consistently deliver for our members.
There are very few lobby firms in our region and across the state that are as passionate and effective as our chamber team. To strengthen the voice of our region, Greater Rochester Chamber led in the creation of the Advocacy Coalition of Rochester Area Chambers (ACRAC). Dozens of local chambers have joined in this initiative to amplify the collective voice of business in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions.
The relationships that we have with our leaders are based on trust, credibility, and the simple premise that no one likes to be criticized publicly. For those who feel that we should be more vocal, that is not how we accomplish our goals. We’ve chosen to suppress theatrics and melodrama and instead operate by the motto of “gentle pressure, relentlessly applied.” I credit the success we have had to both the tenacity of our organization, as well as the willingness of elected officials and their staff on both sides of the aisle.
One of the most significant challenges we have today is the issue of talent attraction and retention. Our team is working around the clock on talent, including Barb Egenhofer, Adrian Hale, and Julia Pagano, as well as Ferah Roman and Dominic Oliveri, who lead our RBA Staffing & Screening division and play a vital role in getting people to work. The recent CollegeFEST event is a prime example of the work that our team has accomplished in collaboration with our colleges and universities, Gallina Development, and a host of other businesses and organizations. It drew hundreds of college students downtown on September 18, 2021, and was a smashing success. We also launched the regional job portal, “GreaterROCCareers.com”, which currently lists over 7,000 positions, and is a go-to resource for job seekers and employers throughout our region.
One of the reasons that businesses join chambers of commerce is for networking and expanding their business opportunities. We could not ask for two better leaders than our Director of Membership Kevin Donahue and Director of Events, Affiliates, and Training, Susan George, who work tirelessly to connect members with opportunities, resources and information through personal connections, business-to-business gatherings, and events that often lead to relationships and success for so many who attend. We are constantly committed to finding new ways to provide information, connect networks, and create more opportunities for our members and community.
An adjunct to this is our CLIMB program, led by Director of Communications and Marketing Shannon Ealy. In five years, we have solidified a a phenomenal personal and professional growth pathway for over one hundred young professionals in the Rochester region who have benefited from the wisdom of leading business minds and from their classmates. At almost every award ceremony I have been to recently, there are CLIMB graduates being honored. Our chamber is providing opportunities for young leaders to emerge and be prepared to take various positions of power as they arise.
A majority of businesses across the region and state are small and often can’t afford a full-time human resource specialist. Greater Rochester Chamber is blessed to have Kathy Richmond, a longtime HR leader in this community, who is one of the most trusted resources for all things human resource locally, statewide, and federally. Kathy leads a group of HR leaders who meet monthly, and is constantly providing the most updated information on our changing rules and legislation pertaining to COVID-19, labor matters, and both state and federal legislation. For many of our members, Kathy Richmond essentially is their HR Director, and always responsive. Her guidance and advice is consistently backed up by leaders from our legal community who also provide our members with information and resources.
In times of challenging economics, if your chamber of commerce is doing their job correctly, there is no better investment than membership. And if that’s not true, it’s time for that chamber to change. That is why we have constantly evolved over the years and will continue to do so. I’m proud of where we’ve come from, and I’m proud of where we’re going.
Chambers are here to represent businesses small, medium, and large, and make sure they are supported and allowed to continue on their path to success. If they are doing it right, chambers of commerce are about creating an environment of mutual support, nurturing and strengthening relationships, and being the best possible advocacy force for business.
At a time when some voices tend to blame business for so may of our societal and economic challenges, we exist to reinforce just the opposite. We all need to thank the men and women who own and lead our businesses for the jobs, investments, and economic strength that they bring to the Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region. We also need to stand up for them during today’s challenging times. If they fail or move, we all fail.
It’s time for all chambers to roll up their sleeves and prepare to take on the challenges that exist today, and that will exist in the future. Our region, our state, and our country depend on it, and we have no intention of letting them down.
That is exactly what the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce does every single day and what our fellow chambers do as well. If you are not a chamber member, please consider joining. You will not be disappointed.
This column originally appeared in the October 15, 2021 issue of the Rochester Business Journal.