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Local Chambers of Commerce: Still vital to small business growth?

Posted by Jason Keith  December 2, 2011 09:09 AM

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Local chambers of commerce have long been a crucial element to the local area's business initiatives. They foster a greater sense of business community, identify emerging leaders, and advocate on behalf of small businesses. As time has continued to grow short for some businesses while digital communications methods have increased, many have decided to drop memberships from local chambers.

In some cases it's to save money during a difficult financial period. But as connections and networks continue to grow in importance, organizations like a chamber of commerce serve a very unique and important purpose locally. I decided to ask Katy O'Neil, the executive vice president for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, a number of pressing questions about the chamber's influence, its embracing of social media and how it is adapting to help local businesses grow and thrive.

Q. What is the most important role that the Chamber serves today, in your view?

A. The Chamber has made a top priority of developing and connecting the next generation of leaders. Strong leadership is vital to drive economic growth, build a more inclusive community, and ultimately make Greater Boston a better place to live and work. Through the Chamber Leadership Initiative, the Chamber has embraced the mission of developing leadership in the Greater Boston region, instituting leadership programs designed to provide our members with the skills needed to be effective leaders in the 21st century.

Q. How specifically is the Chamber helping to represent or further the interests of small businesses in the Boston area?

A. We recognize the importance of small business and provide the following opportunities to the Chamber’s small business members:

  • Public policy advocacy focused on health care reform, business tax reform, and energy efficiency tax credits – issues that impact all businesses but are particularly significant for small business

  • Free programs and events – each month the Chamber offers one free program for our budget-conscience members

  • Business Showcase – this annual event provides the opportunity for our small business members to showcase their products or services

  • Small Business of the Year Awards –this annual program highlights and honors the innovative small businesses of our region

Q. Has the influence of the Chamber diminished over the past decade, and if so, why?

A. No! In these challenging economic times, I think the role of the Chamber is more important than in prosperous times. The Greater Boston Chamber has consistently been the lead voice for our region’s business community, and we have maintained our diverse range of offerings despite the economic challenges. We continue to provide our members with access and visibility, strategic networking, powerful advocacy, and a commitment to creating our region’s next generation of leaders.


Q. How has the Chamber adopted social media tools to educate and connect members, if at all?

A. Our social media strategy is continuously evolving. We have a strong presence in many social media venues, including Twitter (follow us at @bostonchamber), LinkedIn, Facebook etc. and use our blog as a major communication vehicle for the latest Chamber news and information ( We are always seeking opportunities to engage with our members and with the community at large, and see social media as an important component in that effort.

Q. Is it important to Chamber members to feel a greater sense of community than in the past, given the increased demands on their time and resources? And if yes, how has this changed over time?

A. Our members have always expressed an interest in being a part of a “Chamber of community”, and we see that as part of our mission. Pressures on time and resources have not deepened this desire, but have certainly made members more strategic about how and where they spend their time.

Q. Is education a greater focus than it has been in the past?

A. Through our leadership development programs, the Chamber has brought an increased focus on educational opportunities for our membership.. We have partnerships with the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Simmons School of Management, and the Suffolk University School of Management. Partnerships with these world-renowned institutions help strengthen the content we deliver to our members.

In addition, the Chamber has long recognized the critical role of a well-educated workforce not only to our economy but to our society. We actively supported the landmark Education Reform bill in Massachusetts and believe our state needs to continue taking action to improve K-12 education. Also, in partnership with the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, the Chamber has created an internship website -- Chamber Intern Connect ( -- that seeks to connect students in the Greater Boston area with employers seeking interns.


This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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