Building a robust business community and retaining a strong local economy take time, dedication and commitment to success. Local business owners from small to large companies work within their communities to deliver the best products and services and act as an engine to power the region's economy.
With several organizations in place to help build success, the opportunities for growth ultimately are endless. One organization in Berks County that has been a driving force behind this for 100 years is the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Here to answer this week's "Behind the List" questions and shed light on the economic growth of the Greater Reading area is Ellen T. Horan, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber.
Lehigh Valley Business: How long has the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry been operating and what are its primary services?
Ellen T. Horan: The chamber is 100 years old this year. Our mission is to strengthen the economic vibrancy of our region by supporting increased entrepreneurship and growth of established businesses.
We leverage the strength of our business base and our legislative clout to advocate for our community. Through our direct services of training, networking, advocacy and community engagement, we provide value to businesses and are helping to transform our region.
LVB: With the economy rebounding and the job market growing, are you seeing more businesses sprouting in the Greater Reading area?
Horan: We are seeing more startups and we are seeing hiring occur in established businesses. Companies are moving off the sidelines waiting for things to turn around.
In the past couple years, we have had several facilities sprout up catering to early stage companies, including the Catalyst on Commerce co-work space in Spring Ridge, the Jumpstart Incubator and the T.E.A. Factory shared workspace, both in Downtown Reading.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest hardships and opportunities your chamber has faced throughout its years in business?
Horan: The hardships arrive with economic downturns. Companies rightfully need to curb expenditures when faced with the tough decisions of laying off employees. Our primary sources of revenues from dues to advertising, events and training are areas that are often cut in a downturn.
These times also create opportunities to be more creative in defining your value proposition and proactively seeking out ways to enhance your value proposition.
LVB: What strategies does your chamber implement to help startup businesses become successful?
Horan: We have a strong partnership with SCORE – a group of retired executives that has space in our offices and counsels individuals thinking about starting a business. They are also available to help established businesses. We also operate the Catalyst, which provides affordable work and meeting space for early stage businesses.
Another key service is connecting the aspiring or early stage business with the varied resources that are available in the community. Most will recognize the chamber but have no idea how or where to access other entities that exist to assist with planning, financing or site location.
The chamber acts as a hub for the community's "business resource center" to make those connections.
LVB: Does the chamber work with businesses of all sizes, or is there a specific market that it targets?
Horan: Definitely all sizes – from retirees to sole proprietors, to nonprofits, to government related organizations, to large manufacturers and banks. Because there is a wide range of expectations among members, we try to segment our marketing, communications and delivery of services.
A large manufacturer doesn't want to hear about an upcoming mixer, nor does a sole proprietor want to hear about lean manufacturing workshops. But they both might be interested in meeting our elected officials. Our staff does a great job developing programming and communications to meet expectations of our varied audience.
LVB: What does the future look like for the Greater Reading Chamber?
Horan: Our chamber just went through a reaccreditation process with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We have been recognized once again with five-star status, which is the highest in the industry.
That means we are best in class and best in the nation. We intend to continue to be progressive, creative and to continue to add value … to our members and to our community.
Compiled by christopher holland