By Joshua Maloni
Leadership within the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce welcomed members to a year-end breakfast on Wednesday at the Brickyard Brewing Company.
“We’re excited to start 2020 with our 15th anniversary,” President Jennifer Pauly said. “The chamber was formed 15 years ago – and time flies.”
Pauly reminded the audience the chamber exists “to unify the Niagara River Region and to promote it as a premier place to live, work and play, while promoting tourism, business development, quality of life and the history and culture of the region.”
“That helps us segment as to what our goals are for 2020, and that the work we do streamlines everything, to what we need to accomplish for the next year.”
Big Plans for 2020
“Some new things in 2020, at the start of January, you will receive some information – even if you’re not up for renewal yet, on some of the changes that we’ve had,” Pauly said. “I don’t have it mapped out here yet, because we have to be very thoughtful in how we’re doing it, but we are changing our membership structure. Our basic dues package will be $195 – that is a $20 increase from the past five years. … (But,) we are still the least expensive chamber in Western New York at $195.”
Pauly explained each member will receive “all the benefits you normally get right now” when re-upping.
For those willing and able to provide additional monetary support, they can give once – at the start of 2020 – instead of being asked to underwrite events throughout the year.
“We have a lot of members that invest a little bit more into our chamber either with sponsorships or event support, or advertising, and we’re going to use that business model,” she said. “The next level up, in membership support, will be around $500, and it goes up from there. However, it is a value-added membership, so you will see exactly what you are getting for that amount.”
Advanced tier membership includes greater levels of recognition at events.
Pauly said, “At the beginning of the year, you can show what support you would like to do, and then you can break it up into payment plans, and it’s all laid out. So, we’re not asking you for membership and then ads, and then event support; one thing after the other. We’re going to allow you to be able to maximize your exposure with the membership.”
This program is expected to debut in January.
•The Chamber Gala will be restructured.
“Our awards dinner, we are going to move to an award structure where we have one business of the year,” Pauly said. “In the past, we honored five or six businesses: one from Youngstown, one from Ransomville, one from Lewiston; the chamber has a partnership award. We’re condensing that.
“We have members from all over that do wonderful things. We are now doing one business of the year. And the nomination process will happen online.
“If your business does amazing things, you can nominate your business. A lot of times, when we had this process in the past, we haven’t been able to really highlight what all the businesses have accomplished. So, this gives you, as a member, a chance to toot your own horn. Let us know what you do, and why you should be considered in the chamber business of the year.
“Same thing with our citizen of the year; we want them to be a volunteer in the community associated with our membership. That means maybe a volunteer with the Arts Council, a volunteer with Artpark, somebody with the hospital – some type of connection with the chamber. We would love to honor them in that way.
“And then a chairman’s award. So, it’s three major awards that we will be giving away instead of nine or 10.
“It’s going to be a big change for 2020, but we’re excited about it.
“We’re looking for a guest speaker at out awards dinner. The awards dinner will happen in May, at Niagara University, at the Russell Salvatore Commons.”
•For those who can’t get enough of the networking get-togethers, “We also have an all-access business blender pass,” Pauly said. “Our networking events are such a huge, popular thing that we now have this all-access pass. If you buy it, it gets you into all of the blenders, plus special raffles.
“We debuted that in November; it was a huge hit. We’re able to give away a $50 gift certificate just for those access members. And we’re going to do that for every single one.”
•The chamber has spurred greater patronage of local businesses through a gift certificate initiative. More than 40 businesses participate, and the chamber receives a small processing fee from each sale.
Recently, $50 and $100 gift certificates came with a bonus $10 or $25, to be used in January, February or March – when sales tend to wane.
“We have a very successful River Region program right now,” Pauly said. “Two weeks ago, we put almost $1,000 from that gift certificate program right back out to the community. We’re getting people coming in daily, coming in to purchase those gift certificates.
“On Small Business Saturday, we gave out 50 $15 gift certificates to everybody who came to our little tent at KeyBank – and it was great. That was free money to go right back to our locations that accept those – and they’re getting redeemed. That’s what we want to happen.”
For 2020, “We’re looking to change that into a gift card, so it’s not so cumbersome.”
The chamber also is looking into a “cash mob club.”
“We’d like members to get involved in this club, and spend money at different member businesses every month,” Pauly said.
•In 2019, and scheduled again for 2020, “We also produce several events that generate a positive economic impact,” Pauly said.
That includes five business blenders, regular ribbon-cutting ceremonies, annual fundraisers (“Taste of Jazz,” Chamber Gala) and major festivals (Lewiston Smelt Festival, Taste of Lewiston, Northwest Jazz Festival, Harvest & Hops, Lewiston Christmas Walk).
The chamber has forged alliances with regional tourism and business entities – most notably Destination Niagara USA, Niagara County Center for Economic Development, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce, NCCC’s Small Business Development Center, and Leadership Niagara. Of course, the chamber also partners with the Lewiston Advisory Committee, Lewiston Business Group, Ransomville Business and Professional Association, and Youngstown BPA in promotional events and activities.
“We’re at meetings, actively involved in all of these associations that are here,” Pauly said. “This is how we’re able to stay on top of everything that affects our communities. It’s how we’re able to know what’s going on, and what grants we’re able to look for. It’s how we’re able to network with other organizations, and see where we should integrate ourselves into.”
Pauly said, “Our chamber is very dependent on our board of directors,” and members. “We work with everybody, as many people as we possibly can, to be successful. We’re successful because of you. Our goal is to increase membership next year, and we hope to do that.”
Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Christine O’Hara said, “We really owe, I’m going to say a debt of gratitude, and a lot of things to Jennifer Pauly. She has led this chamber. This last year we’ve had some great successes; we’ve had some challenges; but, through it all, Jennifer has held us together – brought us together. I just want to go and thank Jennifer this morning.”
For more information on 2020 plans and packages, visit the Chamber of Commerce website at https://www.niagarariverregion.com/.