Chamber President Cory Skeates Announces New “Area Councils” Plan

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It’s often said, “If you’ve seen one Chamber, you’ve seen one Chamber.” Although the “Chamber” moniker continues to carry with it substantial goodwill and the tradition of being the leaders in the business community, too many have been willing to rest on these laurels without focusing on the needs of a changing business demographic.

Our next generation of leaders are looking for ways to be more strategically involved in their communities through active participation in groups that will make a tangible difference. As such, our Lakeland Chamber continues to look for ways to serve as “disruptors” to the status quo, while also staying cognizant of the necessity to honor the long-standing traditions of the organization.

We in the Chamber world joke that we are all in the “R&D” business, which for us means “Ripoff & Duplicate.” Some even believe that at this point, there are no new ideas left in the industry, just ways in which certain initiatives are implemented and which ones fit particular communities, or not. Fortunately, through this process I have found my fellow Chamber executives to be willing to share their successes in hopes of uplifting the industry and the regions that we represent.

Our business community is living in promising times, yet many obstacles continue to overshadow our optimism. One issue that is a constant point of contention is the quality of our education system. We all understand that data can be manipulated in order to meet the needs of those wanting to justify their position on the issue. Is it lack of local control, too much local control, not enough funding, too much funding, not enough testing, too much testing. It can go on and on. One thing that can be agreed upon is that there will always be a need for improvements in the way educate the next generation of leaders. Polk County has been progressive in many of the programs they offer for our students. From charter to choice to academies and most recently the introduction of a community school to the mix, our students continued to be offered opportunities for success. However, perception from a state grading system that often doesn’t account for many factors continues to hamstring the recruitment efforts for those “high skill/high wage” employers and employees we seek. I applaud organizations such as the LEDC, Polk Vision and Lakeland Vision who have continued to be vocal advocates on the issue. As such, our business community needs to play an active role in improving the lives of our future workforce.

Some of my recent “R&D” led me to an initiative being masterfully implemented by our friends at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. It is a program they refer to as their “Councils.” According to their website, “The Councils provide opportunities for (our) members to get involved in solving problems, discussing issues and supporting events and civic projects that benefit businesses, schools and other constituencies within the Council’s footprint.” Essentially, what they have done is create “Mini-Chambers” within their larger Chamber service area in order to be more deliberate in their efforts to improve the unique needs of their constituency. Every Chamber member automatically becomes a member of the particular Council in which their business resides. Each council has their own leadership and the ability to create their own programs and events, many of which are geared toward improving the schools within the council’s geographic area. The successes of their Council system was a significant consideration when it came to honoring the Chattanooga Chamber as the American Chamber of Commerce Executives’ (ACCE) 2017 Chamber of the Year.

Just as “all politics are local,” I think it is equally true that the more localized you make the involvement of our business community, the more likely we are to make a significant impact on the lives of our students, thus improving the overall system of education and our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest to our area.

The Lakeland Chamber is currently in the process of establishing the boundaries for what will be the creation of what we will call, “Area Councils.” We hope to roll out this latest initiative later this year and will be recruiting those who want to assume a leadership role in making an impact within their Council’s footprint.

–Cory Skeates, President, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce