Laura Ann Brown Tipps /Staff Correspondent
Heather New, Gadsden Chamber of Commerce President, recently completed her second year of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management professional certification program.
Now past the halfway point of the four-year program, New said she has been able to create relationships and networks among chambers across the nation, as well as other associations that deal with the same issues and obstacles.
“It allows us to learn and brainstorm together,” she said.
New was awarded scholarships to attend the institute’s certification program, as well as for the Southeast Tourism Society’s marketing college training course, a three-year process that she will begin in a few weeks.
These achievements represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything New has accomplished and facilitated since she became chamber president in November 2011.
In addition to developing a five-year strategic plan, writing a more concise mission statement, and revising bylaws, New and her staff also created a new website that revitalized the way members and consumers could communicate and stay informed from their computers.
The new gadsdenchamber.com allows members to post jobs, events, and coupons directly to the website so that they are immediately available to the public.
“The interactive capabilities of our website have been a tremendous asset to the membership,” New said.
Under New’s leadership, the chamber has also seen increases in its members’ awareness of and involvement with its programs, as well as heightened interest in upcoming initiatives.
Formerly, the Chamber’s membership was most familiar with Gadsden’s yearly Riverfest, but New said that other activities, such as Business After Hours, Leadership Etowah, and Etowah Small Business of the Year awards are now stepping into that spotlight.
“We took several of our existing programs to new levels of energy and excitement,” New said.
In 2013, Chamber membership saw an 8% net growth from the previous year, and more than 70 ribbon cuttings were conducted.
The Chamber has also stepped up its political presence, hosting events with elected officials including Senator Phil Williams, Representatives Craig Ford and Becky Nordgren, Attorney General Luther Strange, Congressman Robert Aderholt, and State Board of Education Representative Mary Scott Hunter.
The Chamber has also hosted two roundtable discussions with Governor Robert Bentley to open up discourse about Etowah County small business issues.
In addition to putting many other programs, workshops, and classes—based on new ideas as well as revived concepts—into motion, New said she has focused on opportunities to gain recognition for the achievements of Chamber members.
The Gadsden Chamber has nominated two Gold Award state winners for the Alabama Retailers Association (Kendall Lowe Hamilton of Devan Lowe and Peter V. “Greg” Gregerson of Gregerson’s Properties), and two Alabama Manufacturers of the Year (Back Forty Beer Company and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company).
“We continue to nominate deserving individuals and businesses in our areas where we find opportunities to extend recognition,” said New.
New said it is important to her to establish the Chamber as the voice of business for the community.
“Every time a member contacts me to ask for help with an issue, no matter how big or small, it’s confirmation that we’re doing something right,” she said.
All these programs, initiatives, and changes would not have been possible without an excellent staff and willing volunteers, though.
“They’ve committed themselves to growing as one team and leaving no one behind; they have the same love for our members and that’s the primary factor in any success we’ve achieved,” New said.
New feels that, although she serves as Chamber President, she shares this leadership role with the many staff members and volunteers who work alongside her and share her dedication to enhancing commerce.
A Gadsden native and longtime resident, New said that now is the most exciting time to be part of business in this community and that the people here give her the passion to make a difference.
“We have the most giving, gracious, hard-working and innovative people opening and growing businesses and establishing new directions for our economic future.”