Some people could consider the Chamber of Commerce as the Chamber of Secrets, sans Harry Potter and his magic.
I worked at the downtown Sandusky organization for this week’s On the Job and learned a thing or two about the purpose of a local Chamber of Commerce. Frankly, it was my first time stepping through the doors of one, but I was there to learn.
I apologized for my naivety, but I’m not a rare case—in fact, many people don’t know what a local Chamber of Commerce actually does.
I was supposed to answer phone calls to get a better grasp of the chamber’s purpose, but the office wasn’t busy. So I chatted with the employees, chamber president John Moldovan and Marjie Allen.
Thankfully, they handed me a useful informational packet, filled with all sorts of basic get-to-know-your-chamber information.
“We want people to know that we are a special-interest group that promotes local businesses,” Moldovan said.
Allen, the office and projects manager at the chamber, and I navigated their website, which they hope to renovate and update in the near future. They use a program called ChamberMaster, which organizes the website so that members can find information they need.
We then went to another chamber’s website that was more organized and had more features to be more useful to their members.
“So this is what you guys want the website to look like?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
Of the chamber’s core values, networking is very important, making sure that their members and other people from the area get to know one another about two or three times a month. Taste of the North Coast, for example, proves to be their most popular event each February, showcasing about 25 member restaurants for three hours to an average 800 attendants every year.
Additionally, Moldovan called the chamber's Business After Hours event, another networking opportunity, a “party with a purpose.”
For the record, it is not a social club, nor is it a Visitor’s Bureau. They do work with the Visitor’s Bureau, though.
The Sandusky Chamber has 400 members from around Erie County and is the biggest one in the area.
Because people like myself are clueless about the chamber’s purpose, they sometimes contact the organization thinking that they provide travel information.
“The weirdest question I’ve been asked is ‘Are there ferries in Sandusky?” Moldovan said, shaking his head.
Though the place doesn’t receive many visitors, stories of past visitors are remembered more easily. Recently, one woman and her two sisters visited the downtown Sandusky non-profit wanting information about Niagara Falls and the Buffalo area.
They also inquired about Amish Country, so Moldovan told them about Amish Country here in Ohio and Indiana in addition to the other two places.
“I know that (Niagara Falls and Buffalo) area really well, so I went into travel planner mode,” Moldovan said.
Though the visitors were in Sandusky for a short time, they were impressed with city’s beauty.
“They were taken aback by the community park,” he said. “We get a lot of tourists that compliment the community and Washington Park, since several go past the park while traveling through town.”
Admittedly, Allen didn’t know what a Chamber of Commerce did when she started working there a year ago, but she grew to understand and like what it does.
“I thought I’d hate working here, but I love it,” Allen said.
Bottom line: “If people use their local chamber to their advantage, they can benefit from it,” Moldovan said.
“Without business, there is no Chamber of Commerce,” he added.
With their welcoming environment, I felt at home in a place I had never stepped foot into before and learning about a useful organization.
I think I fit in perfectly.