When Columbia County's government began debating a proposal to ban indoor smoking, the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce polled its members and presented a united front of support for the effort.
When Columbia County school officials began studying potential missions for the county's proposed fifth public high school, vocational components of the plan received a healthy boost from the chamber.
And when Washington Road business operators looked for help in opposing a state project that would divide the highway with a concrete median, the Chamber provided that voice.
Since embarking on a new mission two years ago to provide a more-independent Chamber of Commerce, Columbia County has gotten a remarkable return on its investment.
Under the capable leadership of Gordon Renshaw, the Chamber has more than doubled its membership with just over 650 businesses on the books, and grown its revenues from $82,000 in 2003 to $223,000 in 2004. Such aggressive growth has put real muscle on what once was just a satellite skeleton of Augusta's Chamber.
Mere numbers, however, would be meaningless without real accomplishment -- and the revamped chamber has certainly brought results.
In addition to providing a unified voice for businesses, the Chamber also is working to strengthen the business community's influence in community affairs.
For example, the chamber's Manufacturer's Council, made up of the county's major industries, is working with the county's school board to help ensure educational offerings are relevant to the workplace. The chamber also has launched initiatives to unify the health care and hotel sectors of the local economy.
As a result, says Renshaw, businesses in the community increasingly understand the chamber's relevance. "They're able to see the chamber doing some of the things that are both on quality of life issues and being a voice of business, and that's what the chamber should be doing," Renshaw said.
But wait; there's more. Volunteers will fan out in the next two weeks on the chamber's annual membership drive, making personal connections with business owners to tout the value of chamber membership.
There's an old saying that every business is a member of the chamber, but not everyone pays dues. That's because a good chamber of commerce will benefit all businesses, whether they're investing in the organization or not.
Clearly, though, the businesses that put their time and money into the chamber will reap far more rewards. That difference will grow this year as the chamber rolls out more members-only benefits, including a discount program, a networking directory and more.
When the Chamber in 2003 embarked on its new mission of independence, The News-Times was proud to symbolically sign up as the first member of that drive. Chamber volunteers on Monday will begin calling on businesses to invite them to come on board; we enthusiastically support that effort, and the strength in numbers it will continue to provide to Columbia County's business community.
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