Rebecca Martin is CEO of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy photo

Rebecca Martin is CEO of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy photo

State of Chamber: Strong network means economic relevancy for businesses

Since 2014, the Federal Way Chamber has been working to meet its mission to support business connection and to promote economic opportunities through strategic objectives, identified as part of a four-year plan for organizational growth.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Intellectually, those words communicate that the Chamber membership is a sound business decision that invests in the growth of our community. But, so what. Why Chamber? What are we doing? Why are we doing it?

We do it because we have passion. Passion for business. Passion for community. Passion for each other.

The Chamber works to capture all the silent passion carried in our mission statement and give it a voice. How we make that passion real is reflected in the commitment and support of our business community.

First, naturally, is membership—it’s who we are as the voice of business. In our recruitment and retention efforts, we’re focused on growing and diversifying overall membership as well as increasing our retention rate.

As part of our mission and vision, we work to promote and create economic prosperity, connecting the Federal Way area to the south Puget Sound region.

The Greater Federal Way Chamber is healthy as we head into the next fiscal year. We have increased our retention rate 10 percent year over year. The national retention rate for Chambers of our size is 81-92 percent. Our baseline for retention in 2014 was 61 percent. In 2015, we hit a 71 percent retention rate. By 2017, our rate reached 84 percent and this year we retained 91 percent of our member businesses. The Chamber represents more than 16,000 employees in our area—and that’s a mighty voice for business.

Looking to the horizon

As we journey toward our shared future, Chamber has identified business trends that will drive prosperity into the next decade. Making decisions because that’s the way it’s always been done won’t actually get it done anymore. And so we have our Horizon initiative, a broader, regionally connected focus for programming.

The Chamber is working to establish an economic baseline; this is critical if we are to set the right goals for development strategies. We know we need to prioritize building and connecting strong eco-systems of core industries in our local and regional corridors. The future asks us to see how we can work with multiple geographic levels to connect Federal Way to local and regional jobs, housing and integrated business opportunities.

Climate for growth

The Chamber connects its network to consumers, ideas, issues and, most importantly, to other businesses. Input from business leaders matters. Our snapshot surveys give us a quick look at the issues affecting our businesses and the economic climate through which we all maneuver. Currently, the Chamber is surveying our businesses on the impact of homelessness and will share the results with the city’s homelessness task force. It’s one of the many ways we work with stakeholders to address economic challenges with data-driven solutions.

Recently, our membership identified two challenges impacting their bottom line: the recruitment of talent and the need to acquire funding for expansion. Subsequently, the Chamber is planning a Business Expo and Job Fair in January at the Federal Way Community Center. And our annual business summit will address “access to capital” in May.

Our first business council is taking shape as we kick off our Latino Business Council in the coming year. The council will work to build understanding for business needs in the Latino community and to engage those companies in business building programs. A Women’s Council and others are in the planning stage and we continue to explore ways to enhance our connections to the Korean business community in our area.

The Chamber sees Washington state’s multibillion-dollar industries of wineries, breweries and distilleries as economic engines that attract both a workforce and visitation. We support these growth industries and have advocated for an enhancement of zoning that would allow all three to operate here. That process took us from discussion on a tasting room, to micro-enterprises, to finally welcoming these industries without size restrictions. The Chamber thanks the city and stakeholders for their current efforts to secure this opportunity for business growth.

Business building programs

Our new Lifestyle Health Plans offer deeply discounted health care to Chamber members. Our new education series, Mind Your Own Business, will hold sessions in Spanish as well as English. The Chamber will again offer Google workshops, and free one-to-one business mentoring is available in our office with SCORE and Highline College’s Small Business Development Center. Also, a seminar on franchising is set for June.

Global marketplace

We continue to explore how best to facilitate export growth and trade with other markets, working with companies in our regional corridor. Our Certificate of Origin program for exporters helps companies reach the global marketplace. In our program, businesses have exported to 74 of 195 countries, touching 38 percent of the world’s marketplace. Planning is underway for an exporting seminar in April.

Economic development

The Chamber received grant funding from the state to support our economic initiatives. The Chamber will receive $650,000 for economic development programs in business retention and expansion, tourism and innovation. The business community at the Chamber thanks legislative delegation for bringing this—and other funding—back to our community.

In economic development, retaining and attracting talent is supported by a strong integration of assets tied to visitation. The tourism enhancement study is part of our Destination Management program and will include an inventory of our tourism sector as well as its current and potential economic impact.

The Innovation Exchange program is designed to support business innovation, moving identified companies from start-up to growth stage. This economic program will support the growth of small business for minority-owned, veteran-related and women-owned businesses. The Chamber will leverage the expertise and talent of our existing business base, educational institutions and others to provide skill development and professional connections to participants.

Community connection

Our travel program is one of the ways we connect to the community at large. We welcome everyone on these leisure tours. We’re heading to Peru in November and Greece in March 2019.

Greater good

Prosperity, like passion, is found in our membership. The economic success that comes from businesses that are networked and connected helps put money and time back into our community. Looking at the horizon, the Chamber sees that change is always in the wind. And change is hard.

Before we know what we can be… we must know what we are. And it’s OK to have conversations about where we are going and what we need to get there because it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about finding that middle ground, together. Together, we are forging a new direction supported by the trust and networks we build now, together.

At the Chamber, we are committed to inclusive, constructive, strategic conversation as we work together for a greater good. This is the passion of our Chamber. We live it. We share it. We believe it. And we take the Federal Way to business success.

Rebecca Martin is CEO of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.

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