The Seymour Chamber of Commerce has hit a growth spurt and plans to expand its reach to serve all of Jackson County thanks in large part to COVID-19.
This summer, during the Jackson County Fair, the chamber will launch its new mission, branding and marketing as the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a great opportunity to talk about who we are and answer any questions,” chamber President Dan Robison said. “We want to meet and interact with people in the county that we haven’t met yet and there’s no better time to do that than when they are at the fair.”
Early on during the pandemic, Robison and his staff came up with the idea for the Smalltown Strong Facebook group page. Its purpose was to connect businesses with the community to share information about their hours, menus, services and COVID protocols.
“There was a lot of uncertainty and some panic among small business owners. Everything was changing,” he said. “As the chamber, we felt like we needed to do something to help.”
Smalltown Strong was the answer. It provided a bulletin board for businesses and was a great way for the public to support local businesses during that time, he said.
The site was available for the entire Jackson County community to use, and Robison said he received a lot of positive feedback and gratitude from business owners and the public.
“We made the decision that we don’t care if you’re a member or not, this is not the time for that,” he said. “We don’t care if you’re in Seymour or not. We just want to make this resource available for Jackson County businesses, a place for them to share information.”
Business owners from all over the county began to associate the chamber and Robison with Smalltown Strong.
“They were so appreciative that we included them and that we reached out to them and that we connected them to the broader community,” he said.
That’s when the lightbulb went on for Robison and he realized there was a need and desire for this kind of connection.
“Historically, we have a trend of becoming more inclusive,” he said. “This organization started as the Seymour Men’s Business Club. Then it became the Seymour Chamber of Commerce and later expanded to become the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce. So this is really following the path of historical, natural progression of expansion and inclusion of the organization.”
He decided there is no room for rivalries between communities when it comes to the economy and the business community of Jackson County can only be stronger together.
“It doesn’t work like it used to. We are more of a regional economy now than we were before,” he said. “I think we should keep that rivalry on the basketball court but for everything else we should work together.”
Robison first pitched the idea for a countywide chamber last August to the Seymour Chamber’s board of directors. The initial response was excitement and interest but no one wanted to step on toes.
Over the next few months, Robison and his staff did a lot of research on how many businesses are outside of Seymour and a survey of existing chamber members.
“We see it as a win-win,” he said. “For our current members, what business would not want countywide exposure over more localized exposure?”
He reached out to other countywide chamber organizations in the state and started conversations with organizations like Brownstown/Ewing Main Street, which took over the role of the Brownstown Chamber of Commerce after it dissolved.
“When I first pitched the idea to their leadership, they were excited about it, because if we were to expand, they would have another organization to partner with,” he said. “If we’re helping them do chamber things, they would be able to focus more on Main Street things.”
After hearing Brownstown/Ewing Main Street’s support, it was put to a vote by the Seymour Chamber’s board and it unanimously passed.
Robison said it is important for people to know the chamber isn’t just getting a new name, there are structural changes taking place. Beginning in 2022, the chamber board of directors will include business and community leaders from outside of Seymour.
“This will help us align better with other organizations that already exist and are doing great things like the Jackson County Community Foundation, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Jackson County Education Coalition,” he said. “There are already a lot of countywide organizations that we have a great working relationship with. This will just expand those relationships even more.”
And he hopes to build new relationships.
“I believe this expansion will lead to new partnerships and projects to work on,” he said.
Chamber events will be expanded to include all parts of the county.
The Seymour Chamber currently has 375 members and although he wants to see that number grow, he doesn’t have a goal or limit to how many new members sign up.
“It’s not about that,” he said. “We just want to build more relationships. If that means more memberships, then that’s great. But it all comes down to that spirit of Smalltown Strong. We’re better together. We’re stronger together. We just want to reach out a little bit further than we have previously to connect people.”