By CARL SMITH
Business owners should expect more visits from chamber of commerce representatives fashioned in maroon blazers in the coming months.
Austin Shafer, Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president for membership and chamber of commerce, has set a 500-member goal for the chamber by the end of this year. Currently, the organization has 417 members. In comparison, the Columbus-Lowndes LINK currently has 536 members.
âReaching the 500-member mark would serve as a major milestone for the organization,â Shafer said. âNot only does growth reflect an energized local economy, increased membership would add to our organizationâs operating fund and help support the mechanisms which help increase tourism and attract business and industry to the area.â
Jennifer Gregory, GSDP vice president for tourism and chief operating officer, said increased investments in the chamber allows the partnership to promote business, local shopping and community development for Starkville.
âThe larger the budget we operate on, the more we can do for the community,â she said. âAn investment in the chamber is an invest in tourism and economic development. Weâve seen tangible results in our efforts with the increase in city sales tax returns and tourism figures.â
Increasing visibility through one-on-one interactions with chamber ambassadors is just one way the organization aims to not only boost its membership, but also help with retention, Shafer said. The ambassadors, a group of over 20 volunteers, serve as the chamberâs boots on the ground with promotion and events.
Darlene Comish, a BankFirst mortgage lender who joined the ambassadors about four years ago, said the organization allows her to take more of a hands-on role in the communityâs development.
âIâve always been involved with the chamber; itâs such an important part of who I am because it allows me to be a part of the community because Iâve always wanted to see what I can do to help it grow,â she said. â(During the membership push), we donât want to bombard our members, but we do want to make sure they know weâre here to help in any way possible.â
As for the ambassadorsâ well-known maroon blazers, Comish said organizations instantly recognize volunteers during ribbon cuttings, GSDP events and informal visits.
âWhen we do the ribbon cuttings, they say, âThese folks in the maroon jackets are here to help,ââ she said.âWhen we start this push, youâll see us out more often. Starkville is a great place, and weâre very blessed because people are excited about the community.â