Great Triumphs require Great Challenges…
Thomas Paine’s famous words, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” reflect an important reality for the Chamber board during the recent troubles. The economic downturn created a Perfect Storm in Chamber finances as member businesses were failing at the same time that revenue sources, such as our Small Business Development grant, plus income we formerly received from other events including the Economic Summit vanished. As the Chamber treasurer, I could clearly see the impending disaster bearing down on us like a run-away locomotive. We promoted some fundraising efforts to try to divert the disaster, but finally, last December, the Day of Reckoning arrived, forcing us to make the difficult decision to lay off our paid staff.
With the staff gone, the only reasonable choice was to operate the Chamber on a volunteer basis. The challenge wasn’t trivial because we are all employed full time. Following the layoffs, Donna McGee, the current chair elect, asked me, “What does this mean?” I said, “It probably means that I am going to be opening mail, answering phones, paying bills, and figuring out how to turn things around.” My spirit must have been infectious because Donna responded with a wry smile and said, “If you are willing to do that, I’ll pitch in with you.”
The Value of Vounteers…Priceless.
Two weeks later we were doing just what I had predicted- sitting in the Chamber office opening mail, answering phones, and paying bills. Others seemed to catch the infection from us. People kept calling to ask what they could do to help, and then donating their time so that we could continue providing Chamber services without a lapse. Members of the Chamber board are working shoulder-to-shoulder to move the City forward. Martha Goralka and Wendee Williamson each donated time to open the office and answer phones. A team of volunteers is keeping the mixers and our Coffee with the Chamber programs going. We have added a Brown Bag Lunch the Third Thursday of the month and are providing fabulous speakers and great business growth information for our members at no additional cost.
Most difficulties have blessings hidden within.
Something positive can be found in any bad thing and, after two years of desperate struggle to make ends meet, not having to meet payroll cast a rosy light on our dark financial situation. We’re climbing out of the hole faster than I thought we would. Rather than merely trying to survive, we have now begun dealing with the much more cheerful issues of what we should do with our suddenly positive cash flow. New doors are opening since we now have the opportunity of being able to plow funds that we would have spent on salaries into funding projects that will assist Antioch business development.
We see the challenges…and we’re moving forward anyway.
We feel like pioneers in this process of reforming the Chamber on a leaner budget. Other chambers are facing the same financial turmoil and some of them have had to follow our example. I feel bad for some of the Chamber CEOs who are doing the best they can and finances are still tough.
We haven’t dropped anything through the cracks, but we pushed back from January to April our annual Gala Event- at which we recognize the Citizen, Student, and Business of the Year. Two-hundred-and-fifteen people attended, which made it one of the largest ever, indicating that the community at large has been infected with our enthusiasm. Chamber membership also remains strong; new members are joining.
Success starts with a Plan…to Succeed
We’re holding discussions with developers and trying to create strategies for growth of business and increased jobs in our community. We will be restarting the Economic Summit in the spring that will provide a forum for local cities to come together to create ideas and momentum for the future. Collaboration with the Pittsburg and Brentwood Chambers is allowing us to come together on a regional basis and create a spirit of cooperation that is sorely needed as we climb out of the financial stress that has afflicted our country and our region. We are anticipating the completion of the Highway 4 widening project three years from now, which we expect will give our local economy a boost. Technologically, we have improved our website and we are increasing our internet presence and effectiveness with respect to our members and our community.
“The world breaks everyone,” Hemingway said, “and afterwards some are strong at the broken places.” We are not simply going to survive the current economic slump; we are going to thrive. The Antioch Chamber of Commerce is going to become “strong at the broken places.” We’ve gone through some trying times, for sure, but we will be fine.
Dr. Sean K Wright
The Wright Start Chiropractic
Antioch Chamber of Commerce Chairman
If you would like to lend a hand and help the restructure, please call or contact the chamber. Your help is greatly appreciated.