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?

Engage

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.

Programming

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.

WIA to WIOA – What It Means for Economic Developers

The following guest post is provided by Thomas P. Miller and Associates, a national workforce development consulting firm and partner with Fourth Economy Consulting on numerous projects to align workforce and economic development.

Workforce---WIOA-WIAThe Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, was passed in July 2014 to reauthorize Congress to fund federal workforce and job training programs from 2015-2020. It is the first major workforce development legislation in over 15 years and replaces the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, or WIA.

Through WIOA, the U.S. Department of Labor is focusing its efforts on better aligning federal funding with the in-demand skills required by business and industry. States are required to identify workforce/economic development regions and coordinate planning efforts and service delivery strategies. Continue reading “WIA to WIOA – What It Means for Economic Developers”

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”

Economic Development: What I Didn’t Learn in Planning School

131114-Teaching-PlanningI received my Master’s in Urban Planning with a focus on Community Development. I learned a lot about how to design “great places” as the American Planning Association calls them. Characteristics of a Great Neighborhood include… Continue reading “Economic Development: What I Didn’t Learn in Planning School”

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”

Back to School: The Institution of Town

Although our calendars tell us that the official end of summer is still a few weeks away, for many of us, the symbolic end of summer comes when the school bells ring.  The days get shorter…bedtimes come earlier…and social media users go into overdrive posting mobile uploads of children waiting for yellow busses.  As a community planner, I’m always fascinated by the changes that occur in our communities when schools go back in session. Empty street corners become social hot spots at 7:15 a.m.  Sidewalks connecting homes to classrooms get more use.  Community parks empty in the daytime and football fields fill on Friday nights. Continue reading “Back to School: The Institution of Town”

Where or What is Your “Third Place”?

The notion of the “Third Place” was first popularized by Ray Oldenburg in his 1991 book entitled, The Great Good PlaceOldenburg advanced the notion that a “First Place” refers to your home, the “Second Place” to your work location, and “Third Places” are those spaces or places outside of home and work that add value to your daily live-work experience.  They can include parks, pubs, recreation spots, main streets, and civic spaces where people can gather and interact.

Oldenburg wrote that Third Places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”  Beyond that definition, I suggest Third Places can also encompass educational institutions, innovation system assets or other “go to” resources you appreciate, utilize and promote.

If you don’t know where or what your “Third Place” may be, imagine that potential new neighbor choosing between community A and B asks you, “What is so special about your community?” Your response is?

Continue reading “Where or What is Your “Third Place”?”

5 Tips for Economic Development Websites

 

We spend a lot of time visiting community websites as part of our strategy and community assessment work. Here are a few helpful hints (offered in order of priority) we find incredibly useful.

  1. Contact information – Above all else, on the “contact us” or similar page, include the names of each staff person, their title, direct email and phone number. Contact information forms or “info@” emails don’t cut it. It costs time and delays the process.
  2. Maps – On the home page, clearly identify the name of your community, the state in which it is located and a map (Google maps work great).
  3. Info Links – Avoid repurposing your industry or demographic data in a marketing or promotional format. Find a valid data source (government preferred) and link directly to the relevant data set when possible.
  4. Reports – These are helpful. Comprehensive plans, strategic documents, cluster studies, workforce analyses – the more the merrier – Just make sure they are the most recent reports or indicate which report is the most recent.
  5. Social Media – It’s here to stay. Building online communities are just as important as building physical communities. By creating and promoting your community or organization online, you increase stakeholder and funder interest in what you are doing.

Live by these five points and your website will be liked and useful.

Using Young Professionals as Regional Bait

The following article is a post from our guest blogger, Abe Taleb, co-founder of re|work.

This past Labor Day weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Zurich, Switzerland to attend the One Young World Summit. The One Young World Summit (OYW) is a conference for young people (ages 18-30) to meet and discuss global issues, such as business, health, environment, and religion. The summit in Zurich had 1,200 delegates from 160 different countries. I was selected to be a part of the Pittsburgh Delegation of 30, two-thirds of which was from local corporations (PNC, Bayer, Federated) and the other third from local nonprofits.

It was a very exciting experience, with the highlight of the event getting to be up on stage when Pittsburgh was named the host city for the 2012 Summit (getting to stand next to Muhammad Yunus wasn’t too bad, either). While this is great news for Pittsburgh, it begs the question: is the city ready to host a conference for young leaders? And more broadly, is Pittsburgh doing all that it can to attract young professionals?

While the OYW Summit was a worthwhile and unique experience, it had one inherent failure – instead of delegates engaging in meaningful dialogue, we were merely spoken to. The roster of speakers was, as expected, very impressive (Desmond Tutu, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Jamie Oliver, and Wael Ghonim, just to name a few); but rather than having a conversation with the delegates, many of the presentations felt as if they were speaking at us. Though I’m sure their intentions were in the right place – with hopes of inspiring us – what they failed to realize was that inspiration was in all likelihood the one thing that the delegates had even more of to offer.

In my view, this failure stems from the leaders of the OYW Summit, Kate Robertson and David Jones. While they are admittedly both very successful and passionate people, they are of a different generation and have a very different perspective than people our age. Though I very much appreciate their foresight in starting OYW, they should have quickly handed over the reins to leaders closer in age to the actual delegates. It had the feeling of your parents throwing you a party for your 16th birthday, and everything that they thought would be fun, ended up being a little lame. At one point during the 3-day summit, during a conversation on the global role of corporations, Kate Robertson grabbed her microphone and reprimanded the delegates for suggesting that corporations are corrupt. This act upset many of the delegates because it clearly communicated that she was more interested in promoting her own agenda than giving a voice to the attendees.

This all applies to Pittsburgh (and other cities facing the challenge of recruiting young professionals) directly. We need more young people leading initiatives that are focused on recruiting young professionals to our city. I have, on many occasions, found myself at an event focused on the recruitment and retention of young professionals, and realizing that the event itself was not being led by someone of the target demographic. One solution is to support initiatives already being started by young professionals and allowing them to flourish.

One such solution is the Business Bout, a local start-up competition put on by six young professionals who are giving away $5,000 that they raised just by throwing a Barbecue. Their reasoning for holding such a competition is because they want to have a positive impact on the region and see giving away $5,000 to a new business as a great way to do that.

An example that I am fascinated with from another city is MassChallenge, an international start-up accelerator based in Boston, Massachusetts. New companies can apply from any field for MassChallenge, and this each year they gather 100 entrepreneurs to Boston for three months to accelerate their businesses (many of them end up staying for longer). This has had many secondary effects, but most important is that young professionals are attracted to Boston (and not just for school) because they want to be around what is happening at MassChallenge, and to be a part of the positive energy. This is a strong example of an organization that was started and is led by young people but has the support many government officials. Most notably, Governor Deval Patrick, who has been so impressed by the work of organizations like MassChallenge that he declared Massachusetts a “State for Social Innovation.”

My hope is that both Pittsburgh and OYW can learn from successes like MassChallenge and find ways to support initiatives like Business Bout, both which allow young people to lead. For OYW the future success of the summits rely on it becoming a more inclusive and curated experience for the delegates. Hopefully with the Summit coming to Pittsburgh, the past delegates will have a greater role in its planning, and this will translate into more success for the city when it comes to recruiting young people. This is a huge opportunity for Pittsburgh to put itself on the map as a place for young professionals, and we will have an audience of 1,500 delegates from around the world to send that message.

About Guest Blogger, Abe Taleb

re|work, a Pittsburgh based social venture.

 

 

 

4 Books for the Fourth Economy

 

With the days getting shorter and the nights chillier, here are four great “fireplace” reads in the fourth economy.

First up, two books from Daniel H. PinkA Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  In both books Pink offers his take on how the modern talent base thinks and what motivates the knowledge worker.  His insights provide an important reference for community and economic development specialists that can greatly guide their strategic plans.

The next book tackles the big question (which may explain its long title) of what attracts some people to certain communities across our great country.  In Life 2.0: How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of their Happiness, Rich Karlgaard shares his observations gained while piloting a single engine airplane across the country.  What can we learn from that?  He interviews highly successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalist, technology pioneers and global policy analysis.  The stories they told as to where and why they live where they do will likely have a direct impact into how communities are position and prepare for future growth.

Finally, on the more ethereal side of life is The Cathedral Within by Bill Shore.  This book has been on my shelves for several years.  Shore takes a look back to the ancient cathedral builders, when a single construction project spanned many generations of workers.  Most knew they would never live to see its completion, yet they remained engaged and inspired by the artistry and permanence of the creation.  What can the modern business and political climate learn from that experience?  How can we build cathedrals in our own communities? – Just a few of the questions addressed on the pages.

The three themes in these books are critical to the fourth economy.  Especially in light of the extreme political and economic turmoil the world is facing.  Collaboration, social enterprise, long-term vision and innovation will remain the keys to our success.  Stay warm and enjoy the reads.