Why I Don’t Want to Come to Your Chamber Event – and How You Can Change That

Networking Group
ITU/Rowan Farrell

My circle of friends includes a lot of small business owners. People who own bars, print shops, jewelry businesses, motorcycle shops, yoga studios, food trucks, cideries, dinner clubs, podcasts, and organic farms. And they all have one thing in common.

They do not want to come to your chamber event.

I actually go to a lot of chamber and industry events—and I have benefitted tremendously from attending networking happy hours, gaining mentors and connections. But I’m an economic developer, and I’m used to the small talk, the dress code, and the business card exchange. My friends who are creative, entrepreneurial types are not interested in putting themselves in environments where the main activity is “networking” and the food options range from crudité and ranch to cheese and crackers, (typically without a gluten free or vegan option, excluding celery.) Faced with the choice of running marketing campaigns from their phone while they watch season 4 of Parks and Rec, or interacting with people they don’t know, they’re going to pick yoga pants and the couch over awkward conversations.

They also haven’t heard about your event. Your networking lunch may be posted on your website and Facebook page, but if this target audience is not already interacting with you on social media, then it’s not reaching small business owners outside of your members.

Why is this a problem? Why does the kombucha brewer need to know about and attend Chamber events? Because she represents your next generation of businesses, and if she is not accessing the services offered by your chamber and other aligned organizations, then your economic development ecosystem is failing.

Chambers are vital partners in economic development efforts. They are the access point for businesses in the region, and through their networks, businesses gain access to resources offered by the supportive organizations that can guide them to success, such as financing and mentorship opportunities.

Unfortunately, if a small business owner is looking at your chamber website, seeing a board and staff lacking diversity, holding events at the country club, she will not see your organization as a space where she fits. And when her business encounters a setback, without a network of support, you risk losing her business and all that comes with it—the owner, the employees, and the young people who would potentially be attracted to your community by the enticing things to eat, do, and see. Today, talent is the most important factor in retaining and attracting business, and chambers cannot stand to ignore a subset of small businesses just because they are unconventional or much younger than other members.

Another reason that your “Business After Hours” may not be attracting young people is that networking as an activity has lost its spark. With their purchasing decisions, Millennials have shown that they value authenticity, connection, and community – witness the success of outdoor brand Patagonia, whose products and branding advocate for ecological sustainability – and whose recent Pittsburgh store opening featured designs by a local print shop. With creative engagement with the community, Patagonia attracts young people with common goals and ideals to come together in their space, for events beyond shopping. Trading business cards and small talk does not provide engagement with a community or authentic connections.

Business networking events don’t really make sense to people running small, creative businesses. Talking to a bunch of random people at a business networking event is not an effective solution for growing your business when technologies like LinkedIn and Google exist, making it easy to research specific contacts, understand their expertise, and reach out for a coffee date. Finally, for young business owners, their time outside of work is limited, and they want to spend it having quality experiences.

So, what can you do?


Small BusinessEconomic development is a profession built on relationships. Stopping by the new businesses that are cropping up in your community and introducing yourself and your organization goes a long way. You might have to do a little bit of hunting – small businesses operating from their houses won’t have a storefront yet, but could be selling significant amounts of merchandise on Etsy or another online platform.

One way to get in touch with these producers is to keep up with farmers markets and maker fairs in your community. Maker fairs like Handmade Arcade feature hundreds of craft-based artists, makers, and producers; consider reaching out to the fair organizers to get an roster of local vendors whose booths you can visit.


Millennials have been programmed their whole lives. From Little League to dance lessons to student life activities in college, Millennials are really good at engaging in organized fun. Having an activity or event gives participants something to talk about and engage in together, creating an authentic connection. The description of Newaukee, a young professionals group in Milwaukee explains why programming is so essential to creating meaningful networking events for young people:

“…there had to be a way to socialize and explore the city with their peers that did not entail hauling a stack of business cards to a stuffy networking event. And they also believed in building genuine, long-lasting relationships – people need to meet on a common ground, doing something that they truly love together.”

Newaukee hosts incredible events for their members, billed on their website as Signature Experiences, such as Tournavation, a crowd-sourced idea generation platform that focuses on solving important issues that face the city of Milwaukee, and The Launch, a curated networking program featuring an exhibition of hiring companies and potential recruits on a boat.

Social Media Ready

Photo Ready FoodI am not suggesting you join Snapchat, but I am suggesting your event be worthy of posting on social media. Food choices, drink selections and choice of venue contribute to the quality of the event and the attractiveness of images to be shared. It’s not just enough to have a hashtag – consider experiences that young people can engage with and share on social media, such as a custom backdrop, or providing a station to make signs about why they love their community.

Also – make sure your events are being shared with the young people you are trying to engage. Social media is great for this but working with local online communities, such as blogs or message boards, will put your event in front of new eyes. Don’t forget community bulletin boards at coffee shops or bars – if your event flier is posted alongside music and art shows, that’s a good sign.

Don’t Go It Alone

To get maximum turnout from young folks at your events, engage them in the planning process – and in your organization. Start with asking young people to get involved in planning your events – ask for help in where to have them, and how to promote them. As they become more involved, ask them to join your committees or boards, or help them to create their own, Chamber-supported organizations.

For example, the group Connecticut Young Professionals was started in 2013 by a young person who was new to the state and has grown to more than 1,400 people. They hold events such as a non-profit pitch nights. In an interview, founder Faris Virani explains how he tailors events and messaging to his membership:

Growing up in the digital age, millennials are used to getting information very efficiently, delivered quickly and with brevity. Our speakers realize that their job is almost to plant seeds, not necessarily convey all the information during your speech.

Create a Judgement Free Environment

Today’s young entrepreneurs are more likely to wear a hoodie, echoing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, than a French cuff shirt reminiscent of Gordon Gekko. If you expect young people to wear different clothing to your event than what they wear to work every day, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re changing the venue and the programming of events, you might also consider specifying a dress code on your marketing – with friendly wording such as “Come as you are,” or Dress Code: Casual.

Take these suggestions and look at where your Chamber organization or networking program has room for growth. A good first step is to visit that brand new local brewery, coffee shop, or café and introduce yourself the old-fashioned way. Those authentic connections will take you a long way in connecting with the new generation of business owners.

48 Hours in Pittsburgh with the Consulate General of Canada

Bernard-Blog-20160405To many Americans, Canada is our friendly neighbor to the north, known for an affable attitude, a passion for pucks and a penchant for strong beer.  What is perhaps less known is how critical trade with Canada is to the economy of the United States.  Consider:

  • Nearly 9 million U.S. jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada
  • Canada is the top export destination for 35 states
  • Canada is the number one supplier of crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas,
    and electricity to the U.S. as well as a
    leading supplier of uranium
  • 400,000 people cross the Canada–U.S. border daily

Source: http://can-am.gc.ca/can-am/index.aspx?lang=eng

Continue reading “48 Hours in Pittsburgh with the Consulate General of Canada”

New Economic Realities for Communities Mean New (and More Sustainable) Approaches

Community-SustainabilityBy Joanna Nadeau, Director of Community Programs
Audubon International

For better or worse, many towns and cities are experiencing new economic realities. Around the country, communities that historically depended on manufacturing or farming for jobs are suffering, as those sectors continue a long term decline. Fourth Economy and Audubon International have a shared interest in assisting cities and local governments in addressing the challenges they face through sustainable solutions.

To be sustainable, a local economy must be two things: 1) diverse—that is, based on a wide range of profitable sectors—and 2) making the most of natural assets while protecting them for the future. Continue reading “New Economic Realities for Communities Mean New (and More Sustainable) Approaches”

Water Economy Network to Host National EPA Water Technology Innovation Cluster Leaders Meeting

Watter-EPAFourth Economy continues to be involved in developing and implementing cluster strategies that move beyond the data, focusing more on tangible marketing opportunities for regions across the country.  Once identified, regions can bring together common industry partners to solve challenges and help grow their respective markets – all of which helps to distinguish and add value to a particular region or community. Continue reading “Water Economy Network to Host National EPA Water Technology Innovation Cluster Leaders Meeting”

It’s all About that Base: Baseline Data, Energy Planning, & Economic Development

P32-Energy-BaselineIt’s no secret that the best strategic plans are based on qualitative and quantitative analysis, using this information to determine the best allocation of resources to pursue growth and change.  Too often, strategic planning processes “jump right in” and do not take the time to fully understand and quantify current and expected conditions. Change cannot be measured without first analyzing existing conditions to establish a baseline dataset from which change can be measured. This approach also applies to regional energy planning. As regions consider energy in relation to economic development planning, there are direct correlations to the impact energy has on people, place, and ideas. Establishing a regional energy baseline must be the first step before tactical planning can occur.

Additionally, energy planning is an often-ignored element in developing regional economic development strategies. Energy is a universal business itself, however it also impacts every single industry and business within a region. Energy directly impacts the health of people across a region, and is a critical element to regional success. How can economic development planning occur without energy planning? Continue reading “It’s all About that Base: Baseline Data, Energy Planning, & Economic Development”

ChemCeption incubator to launch April 2014

140303-Chemception-LaunchThe Fourth Economy team has been assisting the Chemical Alliance Zone with re-establishing a chemistry-focused business incubator in the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston, WV. The incubator will be a key part of the West Virginia, regional, and national innovation economy. It will assist local and national chemistry-related entrepreneurs by facilitating access to strategic lab facilities, specialized commercialization expertise, and other regional resources. Continue reading “ChemCeption incubator to launch April 2014”

The TechBelt Initiative Receives Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC)

131016-IEDC-TechBelt-AwardA multi-state, economic growth accelerator, the TechBelt initiative has been recognized with a Bronze Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).  Presented on Oct. 8 at the 2013 IEDC Annual Conference in Philadelphia, the award honors this virtual organization in category of “Regionalism & Cross-Border Collaboration” in communities with populations of greater than 500,000.

The TechBelt initiative is a network of technology and innovation stakeholders collaborating to accelerate economic growth in northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia – states with contiguous borders and complementary industrial and academic assets.  TechBelt members are broad-based, representing the economic development organizations, foundations, researchers and chambers of commerce within the “mega region.” Continue reading “The TechBelt Initiative Receives Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC)”

Market Opportunity Networks: Advancing Economic Development Strategy

130906-Market-Opportunity-NetworksOne of the most influential and widely pursued theories in economic development has been the use of industry clusters, or simply clusters, to focus services in a regional economy. This approach allows communities to consider the needs of interconnected firms and define a focus. What it fails to do though is to contemplate potential impacts on these clusters, both positive and negative, by market dynamics. As a result, the practice of using industry clusters as an economic development strategy is an approach that has run its course.

The Fourth Economy team has long been involved in developing and implementing cluster strategies and we have come to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of the cluster approach. Along the way, we have developed methods, tools, and best practices that we believe can help regions to more effectively leverage their potential for economic prosperity. In this article, we first review the pros and cons of clusters and then discuss a modern approach that we call Market Opportunity Networks, which retains the advantages of clusters and reduces the disadvantages. Since 2006 members of the Fourth Economy team have been developing this methodology and demonstrated success with a number of clients. Continue reading “Market Opportunity Networks: Advancing Economic Development Strategy”

Energy Events Take Center Stage in the Steel City

Energy Innovation Center PittsburghThis spring, the under-construction Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in Pittsburgh will be offering courses in “Retro-Commissioning Commercial and Industrial Buildings” and “Project Management for the Energy Industry” as a part of their Corporate Training Exchange, an initiative that brings the public courses that were designed by the nation’s top corporations.

When it opens, the 6.6-acre complex will be an incubator for the green energy industry, a job-training center and a technical support complex for work-force development. Located in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, in the historic Connelly Trade School building, the EIC intends to bring job creation, entrepreneurship and urban economic revitalization to an area that has suffered economically in the past 50 years. By bringing world-class technology to the area, this not-for-profit organization will bring together community members and corporate partners. Continue reading “Energy Events Take Center Stage in the Steel City”

Best Practices for the Fourth Economy – University Economic Development Association (UEDA) Announces 2012 Awards of Excellence Winners

Effectively engaging higher education resources for community is economic development is critical to success in the fourth economy.  Earlier this year, the Fourth Economy team was hired by the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) to help the organization advance its strategic mission – a mission to leverage higher education and enhance our national competitiveness.

UEDA announced its 2012 Awards of Excellence winners during its Annual Summit held this October in Chattanooga, Tennessee.   The Awards of Excellence Program recognizes UEDA members who are transforming their campuses into engines of economic prosperity through leading edge initiatives in five categories: 1) Community Connected Campus: initiatives that promote the physical development of quality connected campuses and their surrounding communities; 2) Research and Analysis:  initiatives that enhance the capacity of colleges and universities to provide new forms of research and tools for community, economic and workforce development practitioners; 3) Leadership and Collaboration: initiatives that support the development of collaborative economic development strategies and the leaders required to implement them; 4) Innovation and Entrepreneurship: initiatives designed to support startups, high-growth companies and clusters within a region; and 5) Talent Development: initiatives that promote the development of 21st-century skills.  Continue reading “Best Practices for the Fourth Economy – University Economic Development Association (UEDA) Announces 2012 Awards of Excellence Winners”