Leona Holley decided to become a member of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce during its recent membership drive.
Holley's business, Holley's Florist Inc. on Milledgeville Road in Harlem, is one of 20 in Harlem that are chamber members - 12 joined during the drive the began in May.
"Nobody ever approached us before," Holley said. "When Scott (Dean) and Gordon (Renshaw) came by, I decided to go on and do it. This side of the county is always left out."
Gordon Renshaw, the chamber's executive director since mid-June, set out to make sure no business owners in Harlem or Grovetown felt left out again.
"I feel really good about Harlem and Grovetown, that we were able to see a good number of businesses come from two communities that we really did make an outreach to because we want them to feel and know that they are an important part of present and future business growth and development in Columbia County," Renshaw said.
The drive, which brought about 100 new businesses to the chamber, included Renshaw and other members of the Membership Drive Committee meeting business owners.
"We have a number of different membership recruitment activities and plans for the fall months. One of those is just Gordon Renshaw being out on the streets, meeting businesses," Renshaw said. "If in fact they are already chamber members, I still want to visit them and understand some of their business needs and some of the things they want to see the chamber doing that they as members feel even more valued as well as valuing the service the chamber is bringing forward."
The committee members had recruitment incentives, donated by local businesses, dangled in front of them through the three-month initiative. Scott Dean, mayor of Harlem and a committee member, earned a $500 check contributed by First Bank for his efforts that netted nearly 15 new members. Harlem boasts 31 percent of the 63 business as chamber members - nearly double the 16- to 17-percent national standard, Renshaw said.
"I think it is a cross-sectional effort. They see there is a separation between Augusta-Richmond County and Columbia County in terms of the chamber," Dean said. "But they have a face to it. We have more of an active arm, to where we have more of a say what the chamber works on. That is not to criticize what the Augusta chamber does. They are more of an industry-driven chamber of commerce. Columbia County is made up of more smaller businesses. This voice, this chamber is going to represent the small business interest in the county."
Meybohm Realtors contributed $300 and John Deere gave $200 for committee incentives. Businesses contributing other services and goods for prizes include French Market Grille West, Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Dino's Chicago Express, Augusta Harley Davidson, Ernie Blackburn Construction Co. and Augusta Lincoln Mercury.
Renshaw said four main chamber benefits convinced the 100 new member business owners to join during the drive, bringing the membership total to about 400.
The main reason was having the chamber act as a voice for the business community in decisions involving county government and other leadership, Renshaw said.
"I liked that he told us we would have a voice on the difference decisions that are going to be made," Holley said.
Other deciding factors were workers'-compensation and health-insurance savings for business owners, the publicized and well-attended ribbon-cuttings and networking opportunities organized with the Metro Augusta chamber.
Renshaw said even though the drive is over, the chamber is still looking for and anticipating more new members.
"With encouragement from city government and county government, (several local businesses) have stepped up and started participating in activities. That has really been a blessing for us because that makes our jobs easier as city government to have people that are willing to work."
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