MV Chamber growth booms in 2018

Steve Chapman

 Willingness to change, increased visibility keys to Mt. Vernon Chamber growth
The Mt. Vernon Area Chamber of Commerce saw an unusually high amount of growth in 2018, with about 50 new businesses joining. Director Pam Dudley attributed part of the growth to new health insurance businesses can offer to their employees through the chamber. However, she also believes that a larger number of businesses joined because the chamber has taken a new focus.
“We kind of changed our focus … from just being (Apple Butter Makin’ Days) to being a year-round business organization,” she said.
“It is a major aspect of the Chamber, but it’s not just the only thing we want to (be known for),” said David Gregersen, board president.
“And, I think people saw that, and that we were able to change,” board member Mike Tebow added.
Part of the chamber’s new focus involved reaching out to the city through a community-wide cleanup program.
“We worked with the community betterment council, we’ve worked with Rotary, and some of the churches,” Dudley said. “Everything centered from the chamber, and then we just did the outreach to the other groups, and we all worked together.”
In addition to working with the community, last year, the board also worked with a committee of architectural students from Drury who helped formulate a vision for Mt. Vernon’s future through the year 2045.
“We spent a whole semester with them, and then that program is still working on plans for things to do,” Dudley said.
The chamber has also made changes to many of the events they run to maintain the public’s interest.
“We just know as a board and a chamber that we just can’t keep relying on what we’ve done in the past,” Tebow said. “We have to improve things.”
“We’re willing to change when we can see that there’s a good reason for the change,” Gregersen added. “For instance, (Village of Lights) had a parade with it, it was always the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Well, we found it very difficult to get high school bands to come to the parade because the kids aren’t home, and the schools didn’t want to make the kids stay around to be in our parade, so we said, ‘Why don’t we try it on a Tuesday night after Thanksgiving and see what happens?’ We were willing to take a risk and try that. From the first time we did it, it was great. It was fun.”
Gregersen also said that was why Village of Lights was changed into Christmas on the Square.
 “We changed the name,” he said. “We found that having people visit people’s homes that were decorated for Christmas wasn’t working anymore, for various reasons, so we decided that had run it’s course. So, it’s time to do something different.”
Since the chamber took over Apple Butter Makin’ Days, they have made changes to some of the attractions as needed. Tebow said this is the reason the festival has lasted over 50 years.
“We’ve basically done the same with Apple Butter Makin’ Days (as with Village of Lights),” he said. “It’s basically the same, but little changes throughout the years. You have to be able to change, or you’ll just be stagnant, and it will die.”
In the past couple of years, the chamber has also moved the annual business expo from January to April in a bid to attract more people.
The chamber has also made changes within. Dudley said they began offering a tiered-membership in October of 2016. In that change, the maximum membership dues went from $300 to $4,000. Dudley said the chamber was surprised when many businesses chose to go with the higher-level memberships, but also said their choice was logical, as higher-level membership comes with several perks, including increased advertising, social media postings, choice tickets to the annual banquet, and choice of tables at the business expo.
The many perks included with the memberships provide a value which exceeds their cost. For example, a community investor membership has an annual fee of $500, but comes with benefits valued at about $2,000, while a chamber champion membership costs $4,000, but comes with benefits valued at $8,000.
During 2018, the chamber also ventured into politics. They sponsored a candidate forum where seven candidates came and spoke to the public. The chamber also hosted legislative breakfasts.
In the immediate future, Gregersen said the chamber wants to put something where the recently-sold caboose once sat, such as a pavilion or a farmer’s market. He also said the chamber would like to see more farmers and people involved in agribusiness join the chamber to reflect the local culture.
In addition to changing with the times, the board is also working to increase its visibility in the community, and Gregersen credits Dudley with helping to keep the chamber in the public eye.
“Pam is a good organizer, a good communicator, and we rely on her,” he said. “She is the face of the chamber in our community, and we really appreciate what she does. We have freed up (her) mornings so that she can be out in the community visiting with business owners and things like that and promoting Mt. Vernon business, and then she can be here in the afternoons. For her to just be in the office is not what we want her to do. We want her to be out, communicating, visiting, developing relationships with the community, and I think it’s paid off.”
Mt. Vernon Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors: David Gregersen - Mt. Vernon Church of Christ ; Mike Tebow - City of Mt. Vernon; Stephanie Bowling - Trogdon Insurance; Dianna Ross - Miss Maddy’s Floral; Penny Lewsader - Lawrence County Manor; Kristy Caddick - WACO Title; Skyler Lacey - Missouri Farm Bureau Insurance; Lorna Kleine - Simmons Bank; Pam Dudley - Chamber Director


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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