Sterman Masser Inc., a family owned potato farm on the western edge of Schuylkill County, is a good 35 minutes from Pottsville, the county’s seat and center of commerce.
To continue to grow, the farm uses the help of the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce to reach the bustling middle of the county.
“We use the chamber as a professional networking tool,” said David Masser, the farm’s CEO. “We’re at the west end of the county, so having the ability to connect more toward the center of the county has been very valuable.”
For a century, the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce has been helping businesses. And now, businesses are honoring the chamber as it celebrates its 100th birthday this year.
The chamber serves 811 members in the county, including America’s oldest brewery, D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc., and other large employers such as Honeywell International, Hydro Extrusions and Tri-State Envelope Corp. And, of course, the chamber also helps small businesses, from restaurants to shops to independent drugstores, as 60 percent of its members have 10 or fewer employees.
“Our membership offers a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits, both through economic indicators and employment size,” said Robert Carl, president and CEO of the chamber, based in Pottsville. The chamber is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a gala on Sept. 22 at Schuylkill Country Club in Orwigsburg.
The chamber works with businesses through advocacy, leadership development, networking, education, marketing and representing their interests. It partners and collaborates with them to create a stronger economy and quality of life for the region.
“The chamber provides us great people and resources, and we’re glad to be a partner with them,” Masser said.
HELPING SMALL BUSINESSES
Over the years, the chamber has helped many small businesses either open for the first time or keep them from closing forever.
According to Carl, the chamber has helped companies avoid going out of business because of transportation infrastructure changes as well as assisting many small businesses in obtaining energy procurement at a very low rate.
“The energy procurement rates are generally only obtainable by bigger businesses, and us being able to get these smaller companies that same rate lowers their costs and increases competitiveness,” he said.
Carl said one of the biggest challenges the chamber faces in helping companies large and small is finding a talented and skilled workforce.
“Workforce development is a critical element in supporting business and growing the economy,” he said.
He said developing qualified workers and enhancing educational and technical skill enhancement are critical to business growth.
“Our leadership development programs, including Schuylkill Leadership and Schuylkill Executive Leadership, augment business development and growth from within each business with diverse and coordinated education, career development opportunities and community awareness,” Carl said.
ALL ABOUT VISIBILITY
Carl said the chamber has coined the phrase “Be Seen; Be Heard; Be Known!”
It signals that businesses only can succeed with visibility.
“We believe there is no better way for visibility and community networking than through the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
John Powers, CEO of Ashland Technologies Inc. in Hegins, said his company is a strong supporter of the chamber.
“The chamber has been extremely helpful in making business connections and helping us find good employees,” Powers said.
He said the company, which opened in 1996, has had extreme growth the last couple years and has had to expand.
“We recently opened a new facility in northern Schuylkill County in Delano to facilitate that growth,” Powers said.
Ashland Technologies, which manufactures machined and fabricated parts, also has a plant in Orlando, Fla.
“We have 65 employees in Schuylkill County and 20 in Orlando,” Powers said.
He said the resources and talent pool that the chamber provides helped attribute to that growth.
Powers, who is on the executive board of the Schuylkill Chamber, will take the helm as president in July 2019.
FIVE LEVELS OF MEMBERSHIP
Three years ago, the chamber launched a membership model with tiered dues. Members can select one of five levels of membership to use the chamber’s services best aligned to their needs.
As part of the new model, the chamber created five new events with enhancements for the level of membership selected.
“These newly designed events augment over 50 annual events,” Carl said.
Some of the other annual events include the annual economic forecast breakfast, annual golf outing, member appreciation mixer and annual holiday party.
Farming operations at Sterman Masser, in the small town of Sacramento, have expanded to 4,600 acres, with potatoes, cash grain and hay being produced.
“Some of the biggest opportunities the chamber provides to us is bringing in speakers who give professional insights on business, politics, regulations and even forecasting,” Masser said.
The farm is a large employer in Schuylkill County, with about 400 people in agricultural, packaging, logistics, sales and customer services positions.
Sterman Masser’s potato packaging and warehouse operations pack and distribute more than 250 million pounds of potatoes each year.
Masser said the chamber has been helping his company with professional services, education and knowledge for networking opportunities.
“To be able to work with like-minded individuals in the county, and meet with people that are having and dealing with the same issues as us, is very beneficial,” Masser said.