2007-09-20 / Front Page

The Chamber is more than just a network

By Michaela Kennedy

Donna Kohler and Vicki de Angeli Donna Kohler and Vicki de Angeli The Jamestown Chamber of Commerce has kicked off its annual membership drive, and new members are already knocking on the door. From meeting commercial needs to being a voice for the business community, the Chamber is a tremendous benefit for businesses, Chamber president Vicki de Angeli says.

With the town on the verge of adopting new zoning laws, de Angeli encourages businesses to be proactive and participate in Chamber activities. "It's important that business people have a unified voice. We all need to take the time to be involved," she said.

The business network started out as a village association, and has grown into the commercial success it is today. Tim Baker, former president of the Chamber, keeps in mind that most people here have small village values. Businesses are a part of the community, and they want to support of all the community. "Without any business, the village wouldn't be the same," Baker notes.

In addition, a big concern with local residents and businesses alike is affordable housing. "It's going to hurt my business if no one can afford to live here," Baker adds.

The chamber currently has about 135 members, but that number only represents a little over one-third of the business community, according to Donna Kohler, executive director for the Chamber. The membership continues to expand, however, since 95 percent or more renew their membership the following year.

The Chamber receives inquiries daily about relocating, visiting, commercial and other needs. "It's difficult to recommend people with a limited membership," Kohler admits.

Over 200 businesses, many in the construction industry and home design, are considered prospective members, Kohler discovered through research. "We don't have contractors. They never joined," Kohler reflects. "Yet they are probably the biggest employeron the island."

Michael Swistak, also a former president who now acts as the town liaison for the Chamber, reminds local business people that the Chamber is the only resource that promotes businesses locally. "We are getting local people to use local businesses, and are bringing other people into Jamestown," he said.

The Chamber acts as a resource for everything from financial to legal help, just by connecting one member to one, or a number of, other members. "We can help solve just about any problem," Swistak continues. The organization monitors what goes on locally in regards to planning, zoning, and town council, and keeps members informed. "For the price tag of 10 to 20 dollars a month, it's a great deal," he said.

On the flip side, members need to be a little bit proactive in taking advantage of what iss available out in the community. Veteran members agree that no other chamber of commerce is as energetic. If local businesses want to join Newport or North Kingstown chambers of commerce, the interest is going to be diluted for what those organizations do for their businesses, not to mention more expensive. "Local people are lucky to have that resource," Swistak adds.

Kohler describes the breakfast series in winter, where a speaker presents a topic of some benefit, be it a legal team discussing business law or a specialist highlighting marketing on the Internet.

The next major event sponsored by the Chamber will be the Fall Business Expo on Nov. 1, at the Portuguese American Citizens Club. Kohler and de Angeli encouraged all to become a member now and show off their talent at the expo. But if you're still skeptical about joining, come to the expo anyway, and enjoy dishing with some fellow business people.

The Jamestown Chamber of Commerce may be contacted by telephone at 423-3650, or online at www.jamestownrichamber.com.

If potential members submit their application for new membership by Oct. 15 they will be entered into a drawing for $100 in Chamber Checks.

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