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Final push for Chamber membership drive
09.25 Michael Lee
Effingham Chamber of Commerce President Michael Lee - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce’s annual membership drive is surging along and the number of new members is steadily increasing.

The goal is to add 100 new members to the chamber. By last Friday, 50 individuals had joined, bringing the membership to about 400.

“We are exactly where we wanted to be,” Chamber Executive Director Ken Stoner said.

Membership drive chairman Michael Lee expects the chamber to not only meet their target but exceed it.

The drive began Sept. 6 and will end Thursday evening with a victory party held at the chamber. Those who join during this time will receive over $400 in savings with things such as $100 off a banner ad on the chamber’s Web site.

This is the first membership drive the chamber has held in several years. Lee said the chamber has tried other methods of soliciting members in the past.

A two-day telethon concludes today during which several well-known faces in the community volunteered, including Lee, who is president and chief executive officer of Citizens Bank.

Stoner made clear that being a member of the chamber comes with many benefits, jokingly comparing members with non-members to a television with rabbit-ears versus one with satellite.

“We have a theme, which I think says it all,” he said. “The theme is ‘Bringing People and Opportunity Together.’”
The opportunity to network is a major draw.

“The chamber definitely opens up your horizons,” he noted. “And you can utilize it as much as you wish.”

At the Business After Hours event held last Thursday the entrepreneurs co-hosting the event reiterated the chamber’s networking value.

Mary Jane Brinson, owner of the local Merle Norman franchise, has been a member for as long as she has owned her store.

“I just felt like it was a good networking tool,” she explained of why she joined.

Laura Harrelson, co-owner of Sweet Pea’s, feels the same way.

“We knew that it’s a good networking source for business people,” she noted, adding that there are many benefits to being a member that people don’t see.

Besides networking, members also gain exposure.

Cecile Baker, co-owner of One of a Kind, shared that she joined for both the camaraderie and the exposure. 

Other benefits include leadership, building a better future and special offers.

A major gain is all the learning opportunities the chamber provides. The chamber focuses on helping small businesses excel.

“We bring programs to the table, training to the table that help that individual business owner,” Stoner noted.

For example, in October they will host a small business resource workshop, in which participants learn everything they need to know about starting their own business. It’s open to members and non-members.

Seminars are held throughout the year to educate participants on a variety of topics.

“They vary from how to protect your credit report to how to start your own business,” Lee said.

Nonetheless, there are still some business owners who choose not to join the chamber. Stoner believes cost may play a part for new entrepreneurs. Dues start at $200 and go up to $1,610.

“Some people don’t have the resources because they’re starting out; they got to watch every penny they got,” he said. “They really just don’t have that extra $200.”

Others complain that they don’t see the value of being a member, according to Lee.

However, like Harrelson, he noted, “What the chamber offers is not something tangible.”

And whether a business person is a member or not, they still benefit from the work that the chamber carries out, chamber officials say.

“We are an organization that is a community consensus builder,” Stoner said. “And as a business association we’re working on those big issues, if you will, things like transportation, water, economic development, business development.”

Lee added that the group works to create a more business-friendly environment and it strives to bring more businesses into the community. This helps all business owners, whether members or not.

Stoner believes in the work the chamber does and the value it provides to its members.

“We would like to think that there’s something for everybody at the chamber — we’re an inclusive group,” he said. “And folks are welcome.”