by Joshua Maloni
The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce is participating in its first strategic planning process.
"With changes happening in health care and the way that our funding is, I wanted to make sure that we would have a plan in place for the next three to five years to follow and to grow," Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Pauly said.
Chamber board members hired professional business consultant Jeannine Brown Miller to coordinate focus groups, and they have met with local and elected leaders.
"It's a really great thing for the chamber to hear what the public, what our members, what nonmembers, what elected leaders think of us, and think we should be doing," Pauly said.
The chamber expects to begin writing the plan next month.
"It's something that we've never done before, and it's going to benefit the entire River Region," Pauly said. "Hopefully, it will help the whole area grow."
A primary goal in creating the plan is to maximize efficiency.
"One of the main things was relationship building and communication, and having the chamber be the central location for all information," Pauly said. "We are pretty central (in Academy Park), and we do have a lot of information. ... We are the one location that has steady office hours (and a) visible location.
"We deal with so many different organizations that it's important for us to have a pulse on everything, and be the information central. While we do that, we could do that better."
Another chamber goal in creating the plan was to refine the River Region's public image.
"Marketing this area, that was another driving force - to try to work with other things to really market this area," Pauly said. "Maybe make a bigger splash with our marketing, which is something that we have to figure out how we're going to do. We don't have a marketing person on staff. The staff is only two full-time people.
"We're trying to take what we've received from these focus groups and surveys, and see what's going to work for the chamber, and how we can have a plan from that."
The strategic plan also takes a crack at finding ways to make up for lost funding. The chamber stands to lose revenue it previously received in the coordination and implementation of health care coverage for members.
"We're still able to offer insurance and help people with insurance, but (the Affordable Care Act's) completely changed the way that we're able to help," Pauly said. "Sole proprietors now have to go through the New York State Health Exchange.
"You know, there's different rules now. The chamber can still be helpful, and we're still able to provide insurance, just in a different way.
"The revenue that we used to have from insurance is not there anymore. A sizeable chunk of our revenue came from health insurance. We had to build our 2014 budget around receiving hardly any revenue from it. We are now able to receive just a small percentage of revenue from it.
"We've looked at offering insurance now as just a benefit, really, instead of a way for the chamber to make money."
In the meantime, the chamber will continue to rely on funding from local municipalities, including the Town and Village of Lewiston, the Town of Porter, the Village of Youngstown, Ransomville and Sanborn.
By and large, the strategic plan is a proactive approach to future planning and events. Pauly said most of the feedback she's received suggested the community is pleased with the chamber's efforts.
"We've had a lot of positive things," Pauly said. "Nothing that we've received was negative, it was just suggestions as to how we can do things better."