West Chester Township and Liberty Townships have become hubs for business, filled with energy and potential. Located on the I-75 Growth Corridor and nestled in the middle of the Cincinnati and Dayton Metroplex, the area is experiencing another dynamic burst of growth and is poised for strategic expansion and opportunity within the near future.
A fast-growing area such as this needs strong infrastructure, including supportive government entities, a solid base of small businesses, a smattering of large corporations and quality educational institutions. To further strengthen this infrastructure, a savvy and ambitious chamber of commerce is essential; an organization with an informed and skilled staff and an arsenal of resources and connections to keep the vigorous growth and energy of the area on track.
The West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance has served the needs of its region for nearly 40 years. Since its formation in 1976, West Chester and Liberty Townships have transformed. What was once primarily farmland is now populated by roads and business, a prime example being the first new interstate highway interchange to be constructed in southwest Ohio in more than 20 years – Union Centre Boulevard. The Chamber Alliance has been here from the beginning and has ambitious plans to facilitate further growth as the forging of Cincinnati and Dayton as one metropolitan area becomes an exciting reality.
"We are at the epicenter for bringing these two major markets together and could be recognized as early as 2017 as one metropolitan area by the U.S. Census like Minneapolis/St. Paul or Dallas/Fort Worth," says Joe Hinson, president and CEO of The Chamber Alliance.
Hinson became president in 1998 and has been involved in the major changes that have taken place in the area. He brings a combination of a Sharonville upbringing and corporate and small business experience across eight cities, as well as a heart for volunteerism. In his first year, he says, "We had no employees at the time. The first day I started was a rebirth if you will. I hired Kathy Rambo, vice president of special events. We had a temporary for a receptionist, the temp’s mom did our bookkeeping and a volunteer sold memberships."
From this humble beginning, Hinson knew it was time to rebuild The Chamber Alliance and to focus on keeping in step with the region’s growth. "We became a change agent pretty quickly. We focused on business, recognizing not just what we are doing here, but how we are going to affect the Cincinnati-Dayton Metroplex and how that growth would affect us. It was important to understand what the future was going to look like here, but also with our major markets as well. What we were developing in West Chester and Liberty Townships was going to bring the entire region together."
This is not a simple vision to fulfill, but it is one The Chamber Alliance is committed to pursuing for the benefit of local businesses, community organizations and residents. "It has surely been a process, but the focus was maximizing the opportunities for West Chester and Liberty Township to change from a bedroom community to an epicenter of commerce," says Hinson.
A major development project, Liberty Center – a 100+ acre combination or retail, residential and commercial space at the I-75 and State Route 129 interchange, exemplifies The Chamber Alliance’s involvement in bringing world-class business to the area. Phase I opens October 8, 2015.
"We are like the company BASF, based on their commercials years ago. We don’t make the products you buy, we make the products you buy better," Hinson says. "We didn’t sign the deal or build the road or develop the land. In determining if companies want to be here, we have helped them understand our area’s business culture. Once they get here, we are able to take the time to bring in the human factor to make strategic business connections."
Pamela Gruber, marketing, public relations and events coordinator, says, "I am amazed on what is really happening. To see growth here and how many jobs and businesses are coming in is incredible."
Hinson explains that opportunities for expansion go beyond the Cincinnati-Dayton metropolitan area. The Chamber Alliance has the knowledge to help local businesses understand the effect cities such as Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and Lexington will have on our central business districts. With such a vast area of influence, The Chamber Alliance is determined to help local business leaders prepare for growth. "We are very big on marketing and supporting our members. When businesses get the support of a local chamber such as ours, we help market and connect them, providing an opportunity for sustainable growth."
The ever-growing nature of the Cincinnati-Dayton region challenges The Chamber Alliance to balance local growth and the overall region’s development. It’s a balancing act of encouraging regional growth without sacrificing the local business foundation.
"Business in our area is changing all the time," Hinson says. "We have to be on our toes and stay on top of things. There are new people that are coming into our community daily. We always look for ways to educate and inform them on our growing communities."
In addition, he says that The Chamber Alliance strives to develop the connections and relationships needed to maintain local growth, as well as prepare for the influx of regional growth. "Sustainability is key to a successful business. How can we help them establish a solid foundation and give them sustainability for a long life?"
To help build sustainable businesses, The Chamber Alliance must model best business practices as well. "When you are talking to business professionals, you have to be able to communicate by speaking their language," Hinson says. "Right away, if you don’t connect with your audience or don’t run your organization, in our case a chamber of commerce, like a business, then you lose credibility. If you have business acumen, those sitting across from you feel reassured talking about their business with you. It’s important for us to listen to our members’ needs and help develop a strategic plan as we work toward accomplishing their goals.
To Hinson, this is the mission of a chamber of commerce. "Our job is to find out what the sweet spot is for our members and help them achieve a valued return on their membership investment."
To achieve this return on investment, a team of knowledgeable and skilled employees is essential. Hinson expresses great pride in his team. "We have a continuous learning environment as we all learn from each other, and that’s exciting. We have a group of ‘can do’ professionals that work hard and smart for our chamber members. We all have certain skill sets and aptitudes to do our jobs. We leave our egos at the door, celebrate accomplishments and embrace our 'family first' culture."
Each staff member leads certain areas that fit into The Chamber Alliance’s overall goal to facilitate growth among the area’s businesses.
"Our organization presents a combination of education, business and social events throughout the year."
Five signature events provide the foundation with connections by honoring businesses and leaders for their dedication to the region. "What we try to do is create great networking opportunities for people," says Rambo. "Our five signature events that we do every year include the Annual Celebration, Golf Classic, Regional Business Expo, The Everest Award-Honoring Leaders and Legends on the I-75 Growth Corridor and Women of Excellence."
Besides these major events, Rambo believes the key to a strong community is the value of working collaboratively. "There are five chambers in Butler County and throughout the year we look for opportunities to collaborate that will be beneficial to each Chamber. Several years ago we changed our name to the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance because we believe that in reaching out we will in essence be bringing the communities together. We seek to form alliances with other chambers, corporations, small businesses, political entities and educational institutions. The Chamber is education, but we’re not. We are business, but we’re not. We are government, but we’re not. We are all those things, but we’re not – and yet we bring all these entities together to educate the community, grow businesses and in the process of doing so, enhance the quality of life."
A strong chamber also includes a constant flow of new members and a stable base of long-term members. "Our focus is recruitment and retention of the membership," says Kenni Blache, director of membership services. "It is one of the most active departments within the chamber because we get to work with new and emerging businesses. It’s almost like being an extension of their offices."
Many small businesses are very good at making a high quality product or providing excellent service, but sometimes they might need help with strategy and marketing plans. "It is good that we can help them or direct them toward additional resources," Blache says.
"You share the joys and even frustrations our members experience. You just have to be there for a word of encouragement." The Chamber Alliance extends this assistance by offering leadership training as well, with Blache also serving as facilitator of its Leadership 21 program. "Leadership 21 is a great program. As we look at the I-75 corridor, we want to help our members become more invested in their future. We give them leadership support and resources to better navigate their community. That is what Leadership 21 gives participants, the knowledge and insight needed to succeed."
What would a chamber be without a focus on the next generation of professionals? "Our young professionals play a key role in our Chamber today and in the future and NEXT YP is making a difference," Blache says.
Kelly Bittlinger, administrative coordinator and NEXT YP staff liaison, leads the way for the young professionals, providing relationship focused and educationally solid events that help young professionals prepare for the workforce.
"A big part of what our group (does) is meet and learn about each other on a personal level," she says. "It’s not enough to just meet someone and exchange a business card. There is a lot more involved to get to know people and build a relationship." To create these more meaningful relationships the NEXT YP group offers monthly networking events and a mentoring program.
West Chester and Liberty Townships are at an exciting point in their history. The Chamber Alliance wants to influence that story and help shape the future of not only West Chester and Liberty Townships, but Cincinnati, Dayton and the I-75 Growth Corridor as well. As the area continues to grow, The Chamber Alliance has every intention on helping facilitate that growth to the advantage of their local communities.
"We are not tearing down and rebuilding, we are creating our future," says Hinson. "An opportunity like this does not come along every day. Knowing this, we strive to make a difference daily, and we do. We can’t put a price tag on that. The future is very bright. We have been presented with a unique opportunity and therefore a responsibility to maximize our community’s potential."
The West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance is located at 8922 Beckett Road, West Chester Township, OH 45069. You can reach them at 513.777.3600, by email at info@TheChamberAlliance.com or visit their website at www.thechamberalliance.com.