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New Chamber president pledges to serve the membership

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A couple of years ago there was the perception among some members of the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce that the Chamber had perhaps lost a few steps, not that it wasn’t doing good work or serving the membership but that since shedding the Wizard of Oz Festival it may not quite yet have found its footing.

A lot has changed since then.

In 2008 Mark Chamberlain succeeded to the presidency of the Chamber and under his tenure two important things happened: the Board created the Economic Development Committee, which immediately set itself the task of updating and professionalizing the Chamber’s website; and it recruited and hired Heather Ennis as the Chamber’s executive director.

Then, in 2009, on succeeding Chamberlain, incoming President Chuck Parkinson made it his particular mission to “big-tent” the Chamber, to establish a better, more fruitful relationship with the towns of Porter and Burns Harbor.

So when, last month, Brock Lloyd, vice-president for commercial lending at LaPorte Savings Bank, himself succeeded to the presidency, he found the Chamber—as Lloyd told the Chesterton Tribune last week—an organization truly “firing on all cylinders.”

Lloyd’s goal this year: to keep the Chamber firing on all cylinders and to keep adding to the value of membership. To that end Lloyd is especially emphatic on the subject of the strategic plan, whose drafting he was involved in. “We don’t want it to just sit and stagnate on a shelf. Too often a plan is something you do but don’t put into action.”

Lloyd noted that the Chamber’s recent activities have been definitively informed by the strategic plan’s four chief objectives: providing a leadership role in the economic development of Duneland; solidifying a central office function; improving membership growth and retention; and leveraging partnerships with other entities in Porter County and Northwest Indiana.

Take the Chamber’s new website, the first project pursued by the Economic Development Committee when it was created in 2008. “People’s perception from out of town is based on an organization’s website,” Lloyd said. “People from Illinois, Michigan, would pull up the Chamber’s website and it looked dated, like something from the 1990s. That didn’t leave people with a very good impression.”

But the new website is up and operating now, Lloyd said—at

—and includes a fully functional economic development feature with an array of services valuable to both current and prospective businesses: a general overview of Duneland, property listings in the community, and zoning, permitting, and ordinance information. The website also provides direct links to Chamber events, community and Chamber news, surveys, and Duneland Today as well as allows members to pay their dues and events fees directly on line.

Now, too, the Chamber has fully staffed central office functions with new software and financial tracking in place. “We also have a formal review process,” Lloyd added. “How do you assess people unless you have some key matrices? And (Ennis) embraces a review. We don’t want to pin anybody down but we do want to make sure people are earning their salaries and helping the membership.”

Ennis, meanwhile, “has been doing a great job of getting out there in the community and the region,” Lloyd said. “She’s being recognized as a leader. But we also want Heather focusing on the membership, so we’ve challenged her going forward to keep adding value for our members.”

Lloyd is candid when he says that much of the heavy lifting has already been done for him. Chamberlain “was pretty adamant during his presidency about getting some doers and moving the needle, beyond just being a social club, which is how a lot of people may have perceived the Chamber.”

Lloyd is hopeful, however, that it will be during his term of office that the economy finally emerges from the doldrums. “When the economy picks up—this year, I hope—the Chamber will be in position to take advantage of it. Things can’t always be doom and gloom. There will be growth. We just need to be sure we’re at the same table together when it comes.”

In particular, Lloyd said, the anticipated ground-breaking this year of perhaps the biggest re-development project ever in Chesterton—the emergency department being built by the Sisters of Saint Francis Health Services on the site of the old Jewel-Osco—and arguably the biggest project ever in Porter County—the new facility being built by Porter hospital at U.S. 6 and Ind. 49—could be the economic slingshots which launch Duneland into the next decade.

Before coming to Chesterton two and a half years ago, when he was recruited by LaPorte Savings, Lloyd worked for AMG National Trust Bank in Chicago and then Fifth Third Bank in Merrillville. “I like working for a smaller bank,” he said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity. I’ve never worked and lived in the same community and I wanted the chance to work for a smaller community bank. And a big part of the Chamber for me is being part of the community.”

Lloyd is accordingly challenging himself this year to grow the Chamber. “Some people may perceive the Chamber to be less of a value,” Lloyd said. “I’ll pay for anything if I’m getting value. It’s one thing, I understand, if a business is trying to cut costs in this economy. But I want to convince the other businesses that they’ll get value by joining the Chamber. The more members we have, the stronger we’ll be.”



Posted 2/10/2010




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