With a new captain at the helm, the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce wants to take on more members to row the boat.
Recently hired Executive Director Gordon Renshaw and a membership-drive committee are working to swell the chamber's ranks by actively recruiting small businesses.
Renshaw and the 24-person committee have been visiting businesses in Harlem, Grovetown, Martinez and Evans touting the benefits of chamber membership, including networking opportunities, advertising advantages and the ability to be heard in the political process.
"The political system today really relies on PACs," said Mike Evitts, a chamber board member and factory manager of the John Deere and Co. 5000 Plant in Grovetown. "Every large company has a PAC in which employees actually contribute. Small businesses really don't have that opportunity to have a big voice in what's going on in government. The chamber interacts with government officials and can represent small businesses in somewhat of a PAC. It's a little different from what chambers traditionally focuses on, but I think small businesses don't have a voice and I think the chamber is an avenue to do that."
Of the nearly 4,000 business in Columbia County, about 350 are chamber members. Since the membership drive began in May, more than 50 more businesses have joined.
Zack Daffin, left, executive director of Columbia County development authority and Columbia County Chamber of Commerce executive director Gordon Renshaw chat during a reception last week at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
Among the new chamber members is Donna Cheser, owner of Heaven Scent Candles and Creations shop at 114 East Robinson Ave. in Grovetown.
Cheser said she joined because of the networking opportunities, including monthly gatherings such as Not Just Coffee breakfast meetings or Women In Business luncheons.
"I want to be able to meet with other small business owners and hear their ideas and let them hear mine," Cheser said. "There are a lot of people that know a lot of ways of helping me that I may have never thought of before."
During the membership drive, the chamber is offering reduced annual membership fees for small businesses that sign for a three-year commitment. Newly enrolled businesses receive a ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by the chamber that will be photographed and advertised in a newsletter distributed with The Augusta Chronicle.
Part of the membership drive, which ends at the end of the month, includes a free orientation luncheon Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the county's government complex auditorium in Evans.
Speakers will be featured from 10 a.m. to noon, with lunch served from noon to 1 p.m. Guest speakers include Renshaw; Terra Jones, director of community activities for the chamber; Pat Blanchard, vice-chairman of the board for First Bank; Heather Woods, area director of the Small Business Development Center; and Diane Masters, vice-president at CSRA Development Companies.
"The purpose (of the orientation) is to educate the community as to exactly what the chamber does and how it can benefit their business," Renshaw said. "There's a lot of questions folks have when I or board members go around talking to businesses, specifically what we're going to be able to do for them.
"They're being sold on the fact that they'll be able to be involved in networking, that ribbon cutting is worth more than what they're membership fee is in the first year, and also the fact that the chamber is going to be a voice for the business community on issues that directly impact small businesses," he said.
Since taking over last month, Renshaw has solicited business in Grovetown and toured Harlem with Mayor Scott Dean. Harlem restaurant BG's Deli and Fine Catering will be the location of a Columbia County Development Authority meeting on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.
"I wanted to be able to send a message very clearly to Grovetown and Harlem that your chamber represents all of the community, and not just Martinez and Evans," Renshaw said. "At the same time, Martinez and Evans are critical to the success and representation in the county. We want people to think of Columbia County as the best environment for their business and their family."
For more information on the membership drive or the orientation, call the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce at 651-0018.
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