In the 1990s, American Express launched a memorable slogan to entice consumers to pay an annual fee to use their card: “membership has its privileges.” Today, the American public pays for privileges to join Costco, Sam’s Club, gyms, Amazon Prime and more to be granted special access and privileges. Others pay annually to join their social and fraternal clubs such as Kiwanis, Elks, Rotary, Lions and Shriners, among others. We like to belong to be part of something greater or to save dollars. But, when it comes to joining a business organization, there is hesitancy on the part of mostly small businesses to join their national, state or local trade association and their local chamber of commerce — reasoning that the fee amount is not affordable, they are too busy to participate, or simply they won’t get anything out of it. Since March 2020, the old AMEX slogan never rang truer, for it was the businesses that belonged to their national, state or local trade association and their respective — or multiple — chambers of commerce that were able to jump on opportunities for federal or state grants before the word leaked out to the business community-at-large and the funds were tapped. They reaped in thousands to tide them over and were the first to know whatever the next gubernatorial or federal edict might be. When local governments provided a helping hand, such as distributing free sanitizing equipment, masks and other expensive mandated items specified by the CDC, chamber members were the first to know. Local chambers are instrumental in alerting members to local issues such as increased taxes and fees that may hamper their ability to thrive and grow. Chambers, unlike trade associations, have a variety of members and watch out for just about everything. Some chambers hire lobbyists to watch anti-business bills when the legislature is in session, as do trade associations. The bottom line is always how can we help the business community. Many chambers belong to multiple trade associations to gain knowledge of a particular trade, and because we do — and because many small restaurants do not belong to their state association — we passed the word of the successful lobbying of the National Restaurant Association and the Nevada Restaurant Association to allow smaller restaurants the opportunity for yet another grant specific to them urging them to apply immediately before funds were depleted. The state association lobbied hard — and won — to restrict the cost of doing business with national delivery services who were gouging the smaller restaurants when they could least afford it. Non-members, unfortunately, may have missed the grant opportunities. The U.S. Chamber continues to lobby hard nationally to limit taxes and other liabilities on businesses. If a local chamber is a member of the U.S. Chamber, each local member is eligible to become a federated member of the national chamber at no additional fee. The U.S. Chamber is on top of most of the major issues negatively affecting business in general. Chambers reflect their community; thus, each chamber is unique. Most provide networking and educational opportunities. They spread the word about their members and issues. A chamber goal is to bring the community together to thrive and prosper. Studies conducted by the Shapiro Group and Market Street Services show 44% of consumers think more favorably of a business referred to them by a chamber or found on a chamber website. Chambers are known as “the” community resource providing all the answers. The caveat to joining any organization is that you will get out of it as much as you put in. Non-participants ask, “what can you/did you do for me?” We list a litany of benefits but, as the old adage goes, “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink.” Yes, it costs to join a chamber, trade, social or other affinity association, but it is money that is well-spent for more reasons than this column allows. It keeps you in touch. For the business community, supporting your local chamber and respective trade association is a wise business investment. During this pandemic, the true value of a chamber membership was very apparent, for those in the know were able to thrive in this ever-changing economy. Yup, that American Express slogan rings as true today as it did in the ‘90s. “Carson Conversation” is a monthly NNBW Voices column authored by Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. Reach her for comment at email@example.com.
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