DAVENPORT – As the U.S. economy struggles to shake off the impact of the national recession and the collapse of the housing market and subsequent credit crunch, Tommy Tompkins admits that it’s starting to feel like the rules of the business world have changed permanently.
“Some of us feel with this economy and the country being where we are today, maybe we’re in a new place and we’re in a new norm,” said Tompkins, an Osceola County businessman and developer.
That “new norm” could mean that businesses are operating in an environment where old rules simply no longer apply, and the owners may need to seek out new and innovative ways of building up their clientele and attracting new customers, Tompkins said.
And ironically, he added, the same concept holds true for an organization whose very purpose is to help advance, promote and nurture local businesses: the Chamber of Commerce.
Tompkins serves on the board of directors for the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce, which has been losing members in the past year as Osceola County’s economy has struggled to shake off a persistently high, double-digit unemployment rate. It’s been a rough road for a county that had relied so heavily in the past decade on jobs being created from growth – people moving to Central Florida from other states, and needing new homes to live in. When the housing market collapsed in 2008, the home construction industry — and the overall local economy — suffered right along with it.
As Tompkins noted, the Chamber is starting to look at ways of reinventing itself, and becoming more attractive to new and existing businesses within the county.
“If we are in a new norm, maybe the Chamber needs to recognize that and change the way we do business,” Tompkins said. “A lot of businesses are doing that.”
On Oct. 13, Tompkins met with members of the Four Corners Area Council, which represents business owners in the Four Corners area along U.S. 192 and U.S. 27. The council operates under the Chamber, and held its monthly meeting at the Sunshine Foundation’s Dream Village in Loughman.
Tompkins said he’s been reaching out to the members of the various councils that the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber sponsors. There are also councils representing business owners in Poinciana, Celebration, Downtown Kissimmee, and Tourism Resort Areas, and others.
“I’m here to ask for your support and assistance in the review and analysis of the Chamber,” Tompkins said. “We’re working to reevaluate everything we do.”
Tompkins said he wants members to begin forming special task force groups that can try to come up with ways of encouraging more local business owners to join the Chamber and take advantage of its services.
“We’re asking you to set up a meeting or workshop to think about what this Chamber can be in the future,” he said.
The Chamber is already moving in new directions, Tompkins said, including employing social networking sites as a means of connecting with people.
“We’ll do Twitters and Facebook and social media,” he said. “These are things we as an organization need to be doing. You can’t just sit back as a Chamber and try to broad brush our services. We have to be willing to say, ‘If this doesn’t work, do away with it.’ ”
Realtor Sonny Buoncervello, a member of both the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber and the Four Corners Area Council, said a key to being more successful could be figuring out how to connect with young entrepreneurs who may not be familiar with the Chamber or what kinds of services it provides. Buoncervello noted that he’s also a member of the Four Corners Rotary Club, which he said is facing a similar challenge: how to attract young members and get them to carry the torch of what the Rotary is trying to accomplish.
“There’s a million Rotarians out there who have already said, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got to redesign,’ “ Buoncervello said. “Everyone realizes you can’t talk to 30 year olds the way you talk to 60 year olds.”
Hector Lizasuain, chairman of the Four Corners Area Council, noted that his members have been very active in the Four Corners area — sponsoring a municipal summit there, creating the first Four Corners street map, raising funds for programs that feed needy families, and hosting social and community events like the recent Taste of Four Corners festival.
That community outreach, he said, helps their image as business owners as well.
“One thing we can be proud of this year is our community involvement,” he said. “We’ve had some really great things come out of this group here.”
Tompkins said that’s exactly what the parent company is looking for: new, creative ways to connect with the community they represent.
“We want to engage you, we want to get you thinking about this,” he said.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.