Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce pivots

By Posted on Jan 22 2021 | By

100th-anniversary agenda seeks to restore business vitality

The definition of optimism in 2021 is an organization envisioning growth. But after one of the most difficult financial years in history, tentativeness might be a better option.

But not for the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce. It was founded in 1921 and has been an economic force ever since. A pandemic cannot alter its track record, and a vigorous plan to return to normalcy is now on its docket.

As the largest and most experienced business association in Fauquier County, the chamber promotes its members exclusively while representing the county’s commercial interests as a whole. Its goal this year is to double down on past successes and revitalize the business community.

Last year, under chairman Chris Coutts’ tenure, the chamber had to cease meeting in person. Since all of the organization’s events were in-person gatherings revenues plummeted, forcing a host of retrenchment actions, including the release of its executive director.

Faced with such challenges, Coutts developed a vision of starting over and created a playbook full of fresh ideas.

Now, a new chair has taken the reins in the person of Marianne Clyde, a respected businesswoman. Her goal is to further ramp up the chamber’s online presence in the first part of the year. Then, hopefully with the easing of Covid-19, return in the latter half of the year with face-to-face programs that will restore the chamber’s luster.

“The chamber’s strength is face-to-face networking, but we are now pivoting so we can be more directly beneficial to members’ businesses. We will be offering better advocacy and better programs for online networking, including a new video program called “Chamber Chat,” a by-monthly effort to keep members up to date on recovery actions,” explained Clyde.

The Governor’s December executive order limits gatherings to 10 or fewer people. It’s anticipated that will be lifted on January 31.

One asset is a contract with Premier Hospitality, which was formerly the chamber’s event contractor. Today, the firm handles staffing, event planning, online presence, administrative functions, and membership duties.

The sunny spot in the chamber’s dark skies is membership. It was anticipated a significant drop in roster numbers would occur. It didn’t happen.

“We did not lose many members,” said Clyde. “Membership is now about 525, which is not much off the mark from early 2020. That was a real blessing.”

Annual membership dues range in cost depending on the size of the company. Dues have not been raised. Non-profits pay $165, agricultural entities $200, small businesses $245, then ranging upward based on the firm’s size. It tops out at $1,125 a year for companies with over 100 employees. There are eight membership categories.

New strategic plan

A new plan calls for increasing community relationships, increasing access to chamber resources, and revitalizing performance, all the goals harnessed to a shift in direction.

“In January, everything we do will be online. We are having a Zoom town hall meeting on January 15 in partnership with Fauquier Health. An expert panel will discuss the county’s rollout of the vaccine. Both members and the public are welcomed to attend,” said Clyde.

Another Zoom get-together will be held on January 20 called “Business Heroes Celebration”. It will honor chamber and business community members who have gone above and beyond in their efforts during these challenging times.

To sign up for public Zoom meetings, go to the Events link on its website.

“We are trying to include the community in a lot of our new offerings. One of our goals is to make the economy better community-wide while also making it easier to do business for our members.”

100th anniversary
Many of the 2021 programs will be centered on the number 100. There will be a business challenge to achieve 100 new engagements on social media. Without leaving home, and at no cost, members can go to the chamber Facebook page and place their social media addresses on it.

Members can then “Like” and follow each other’s accounts. Its intent is to build familiarly among the members and support their businesses.

There will also be a 100-mile challenge. Participants will walk, run, swim, or bike for 100 miles on a pace and segmented distance set by themselves. The miles are individually recorded, and when the goal is achieved, the “athletes” submit their names to the chamber.

Participation in the challenge will be open for six months allowing ample time to achieve the goal. Later in the year, there will be a live awards ceremony (safety permitting) recognizing the winners. The registration fee is $35.

A 100th-anniversary leadership luncheon series via Zoom will showcase business coaches. The experts will offer ways to improve business performance and will provide tangible tools to do so. The series is scheduled to run once a month throughout the year.

On February 17, a series of inspirational speakers will debut on Zoom as a monthly educational offering. The first meeting will feature an internationally known adventurer who is seeking to become the first woman to sail the seven seas and climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of each of the seven continents, “She is fascinating,” assured Clyde.

Starting in March, a return to old times will be attempted when in-person lunches will be reestablished. “The first couple of meetings will likely be in a hybrid fashion with a limited number of live attendees and the rest participating via Zoom,” Clyde said.

“Our ultimate goal is to benefit the community through education, inspiration, and networking. We want to be a multifaceted clearinghouse of information.”

By July, the chamber is hopeful that much of its conventional meeting format will be safely in place, including the ever-popular spring festival that will be hosted in the fall.

The year will hopefully close out with its 100th-year gala celebration in November.

“We are optimistic and excited about the direction our chamber is going. We expect to have 100 new members by this time next year,” said Clyde.  


Published in a January 2021 edition of the Fauquier Times.

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