This week's Boston Business Journal had a feature story on Chambers of Commerce in Massachusetts. In it, several Chambers were interviewed and asked how they deal with changing dynamics in the business community.
Cited were a variety of external factors such as the rise of online retailers versus traditional brick and mortar storefronts. Social media has opened a variety of opportunities for networking that never existed before. An aging workforce is beginning to challenge the ability of businesses to fill jobs, in particular those requiring technical skills.
Consequently Chambers of Commerce have had to adapt and find ways of supporting the business community based on what its changing needs are. You read here a few months ago how this Chamber's board of director's spent an afternoon retreat discussing these issues and planning for the future. Several initiatives have already begun as a result of that day; we've launched a Women's Leadership Alliance, formed a Communications Committee to revise our communications strategy and we've begun work on a member engagement strategy.
However, as the BBJ article points out, some elements of what Chambers do have not changed and continue to play an important role in our relevance to members. Chief among them are networking and government affairs or advocacy. The primary reason that new members join the Chamber continues to be for its networking opportunites.
A less-stated, but equally important reason for Chamber membership is the Chamber's ability to advocate for its members on issues that impact them. The most effective way to do this is to build and maintain strong relations with our state and local leaders in government.
To that end, our Government Affairs Committee meets regularly with state and local leaders as well as with leaders of other business or advocacy groups in order to be well informed on the issues of the day.
We will be hosting our Annual Legislative Reception on Thursday, September 28th at the Endicott Estate in Dedham. Invited guests include our region's state Senators and Representatives, Town Managers, Boards of Selectmen, Economic Development directors and planners.
This is your opportunity to get to know the people who make decisions that impact your business. It's your chance to share with them your thoughts on what issues you face and what you need (or don't need) from your community and the state.
Please mark your calendar and plan to join us for an evening of drinks and appetizers and take advantage of your opportunity to get to know the area's public officials. You can learn more and register here.
A few weeks ago we polled Chamber members to learn what Social Media platforms they found to be the most beneficial to their business. I wish I could share the results with you but unfortunately a glitch in the survey prevented anyone from submitting their answers, so we have no results (insert frowning emoji here). We will fix the problem and try again soon so that we may be able to share this information with you.
What we do know is that more and more individuals and businesses are using social media to connect with customer and prospects, to share information about their companies and to generate customer feedback and satisfaction rates.
The Chamber is no different. We utilize LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook all to varying degrees to connect with our members, to promote our events and mostly to promote our members. Our recently convened Communications Committee led by Dana Bottorff, G.T. Reilly & Co., has been busy reviewing all Chamber communications. Inevitably each meeting comes back to social media. Collectively we are trying to determine how best to utilize our limited resources on social media. There is no shortage of good ideas among our committee and we are beginning to zero in on a few strategies that we hope will increase the Chambers presence on social media, but more importantly help us to work with our members to leverage their online presence.
We have also been aided by the support of our summer intern, Lauren Beimler, a Foxboro resident and student at Emmanuel College. Lauren has been researching our members to see what social media platforms they use and then working to connect us with them. She is also researching best practices from Chambers throughout the country that have been recognized for their effectiveness with social media. Finally she has set us up with an Instagram account and you can expect to see us there in the very near future. As with most things dealing with the latest technology, it helps to have access to the skills and experience of millennials.
As we continue to connect with our members online, we ask for you to do the same. If you are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, please connect with the Chamber. Like us, follow us, share us, retweet us! The more we can expand one another’s reach the better of we all are.
To that end we are launching a Re-tweet contest. Whoever re-tweets our Twitter posts the most by August 8th will be selected to have their company spotlighted as our next video spotlight. That’s a free video up to 3 minutes in length, a $350 value!
Here’s where you can find us on social media:
President and CEO
Do you know what Paid Family and Medical Leave will do to your business?
Earlier this week I participated in a conference call with Chambers, business groups and employers from across the state regarding the Paid Family and Medical Leave Bills being considered on Beacon Hill. The call was hosted by Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and shed light on what is contained in the bills and how they would impact Massachusetts businesses.
The following information provided by AIM explains the bills.
The Senate paid leave bill creates a new Massachusetts law establishing the right for employees, certain state independent contractors providing family childcare, personal care attendants, and self-employed individuals to receive job protected paid family and paid medical leave under certain circumstances.
Benefits include up to 16 weeks of paid family leave, and 26 weeks of paid medical leave. Leaves may be taken intermittently.
Weekly benefits rate: 50% of the employee's weekly wage, capped at $1,000 per week. Benefits increase to 90% of weekly wage by January of 2021 and the average weekly wage is then tied to the Consumer Price Index for the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy consolidated metropolitan statistical area. Not only is this an extraordinarily high rate of compensation, but it also derives the wage rate from on the area of the Commonwealth with the most expensive cost of living.
Family leave is leave taken by an employee to provide care for a family member. Family member is defined as spouse, domestic partner, child, and parent, parent of a spouse or domestic partner, an individual who stood in loco parentis to the employee when the employee was a minor child, grandchild, grandparent, or a sibling of the employee.
Leave may be taken for any of the following reasons: to bond with the employee's child during the first 12 months after the child's birth or the first 12 months after the placement of the child for adoption or foster care with the employee. Leave may also be for a serious health condition of a family member; or because of a qualifying exigency pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1)(e), arising out of a family member of the employee being on active duty in the armed forces of the United States.
Medical leave is leave taken by an employee from employment due to a serious health condition of the employee that renders the employee unable to perform the functions of the employee's position.
The bill creates a new department to run the program as well as a new "assessment" to fund it - further; the assessment may be shared 50/50 between employers and employees.
AIM estimates the likely cost per week per employee to fund this new paid leave program exceed $10.00 per week, or $520 per employee yearly. The state's Unemployment Insurance system costs an average of $508 per employee yearly, raising over $1.3 billion to pay for benefits under the UI program.
For more detailed information you can access the Powerpoint presentation from the conference call here.
The Chamber will continue to monitor these bills and provide updates as needed.
The Board of Director's of the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce recently spent an afternoon in a facilitated discussion about the state of the organization and its future.
It was an exhilarating (seriously) afternoon. The board, along with staff, took a hard look at our current reality as a Chamber. We looked at our membership metrics, our events and programs and our community impact. We looked at the current local business environment. We also looked at the most current trends in Chambers of Commerce nationwide.
The planning session was organized by Board Chair, Brian Johnson, Past Chair, Dana Bottorff and Chair-elect, Cindy Peterson. Kevin Hallinan, WINNING, INC., facilitated the discussion for the afternoon.
Using data and research tools from ACCE, the national chamber of commerce association, we were able to examine trends impacting local chambers and strategies being used by others to take strategic advantage of the changing business landscape.
So why should you care and what does it mean going forward?
First, like any business, the Chamber must be continuously evolving. We need to be able to recognize and adapt to issues impacting your business; like an aging workforce, millennials in the workplace, diversity and inclusion, future skills sets like those of advanced manufacturing, social media trends and much more.
By doing this and with your input, we can develop programs and events that meet your needs today and into the future.
Second, we were able to agree on a few short-term action items to begin moving us forward, while we continue to consider longer term-strategies.
In order to provide a quick boost to our membership the board has committed to conducting a membership drive highlighted by a recruitment breakfast on June 14th. Details to follow soon.
In order to provide a better member-experience for members our board is establishing a Member Engagement Task Force which will work to identify strategies aimed at improving member retention.
We have re-established a Communications Committee which will increase our social media presence and engagement with members by using existing members as Social Media Ambassadors.
The board is currently establishing a Women's Business Network to help engage women business owners and leaders in our region.
We are excited about the opportunities for growth these initiatives present us with. We also recognize that we need your help to be successful. You will hear more details about each of these in the near future and we hope you will participate wherever your interest and talents allow.
The bottom line in all of the above is to create a Chamber that meets the needs of its members and our communities.
Thomas O'Rourke, CCE
President and CEO
You may have heard by now that Massachusetts has been ranked the number one state in the country by U.S. News & World Report. The rankings are based on a number of categories and Massachusetts scored high on many, most notably health care, technology and education. In fact, we also learned yesterday that the state’s high school graduation rate reached an all-time high. Last year 87.5% of high school seniors graduated within 4 years.
The good news doesn’t end there of course. We are still basking in the glow of another Super Bowl victory by the Patriots, the Red Sox are favorites to make the World Series this year, the Celtics are in first place and even the Bruins are enjoying a hot streak under their new coach.
Life is so good we even have 70 degree days in February!
But this is no time to pull out the beach chairs and lay in the sun. As sure as we are bound to see more wintry weather in March, we can also be sure that challenges to our success will always exist.
The U. S. News & World Report study noted that Massachusetts ranked 44th in housing affordability in the nation. This is a troubling statistic especially at a time when a significant portion of our workforce is aging into retirement and an influx of young people is needed to fill important jobs in technology, manufacturing, health care and elsewhere. Balancing the need for affordable housing opportunities with local opposition to 40B developments will continue to be a challenge.
The report also revealed that the Bay State was 47th when it comes to commute time and drew parallels from that to our aging infrastructure. Significant investments in roads, bridges and transit are needed to improve our ability to get people to and from work more quickly and to move freight in and out of the region more reliably. It will be interesting to see if President Trump makes good on his promise to invest in infrastructure and if Massachusetts, with an all Democrat congressional delegation, can bring any of that investment back home.
Despite leading the nation in academic achievement there is still more to be done to ensure that our students, graduating at such a high rate, have the skills needed in today’s economy to be successful in college or their careers. A gap between the skills needed by employers and the skills possessed by young workers still exists, leaving people unemployed while jobs are unfilled. You can read more below about efforts to close the skills gap in our Education Brief from MBAE.
The Patriots have developed a formula for becoming number one and remaining there for the long term. Massachusetts can boast the same for now, but staying on top is what’s important and therefore we must continue to identify our weaknesses and improve on them. The Chamber, working with local and state government, our school systems and the business community is committed to doing just that.