Ernie Colburn: What’s going on at the Chamber? Lots!

I get the question a lot “What’s going on at the Chamber?”

The answer is “Everything!”

We’re so deep and involved in many projects that are both short-term and long-term opportunities for our area. So, I feel the best way to bring you up-to-speed on  the projects would be via categorization under the Chamber’s Divisions … specifically Membership, Community Outreach, Advocacy & Government Relations, and Business & Economic Development.

Some of these target projects crossover into more than one Division.

So let’s start with our Membership Division.

$LN — This acronym means “Save Local Now” and is a new membership development tool the Chamber is going to be introducing shortly. Members will have the ability to create their own website for free and post deals and discounts that they can easily share on social media or with their email contacts.

The Chamber will also use this program to promote the Member to Member Discount program in which Chamber members can offer deals and discounts exclusively to other Chamber members — a huge perk to being a member! Stay tuned.

Women’s Business Network — Our Director of Member Services, Cathie Thomas has developed this standalone group to better position women in the workplace. The mission of Chamber Women’s Business Network is to provide an opportunity for women of all levels of business to gather for the purpose of networking, mentoring, educating, and to give back to the local community. More to come.

Next would be our Community Outreach Division:

This category includes the Education Network, Beautification and Environmental Affairs Network, and Arts & Entertainment. Under Education, the Chamber has contracted for three years its YEA! Program. This acronym means ”Young Entrepreneurs Academy” and will offer 24 students the opportunity to attend a 30-week programmed class and after the 30th week actually walk out of the class and own their own business !!  Now we’re talking students from grades 6 through 12.

What a special opportunity for this select group of young people; the Chamber is doing this for three years.

Beautification & Environmental Affairs: Last year the Beautification Network held the “Make-a-Heron” contest in which teams created life-size herons out of recycled materials. “Scuttle” was chosen as the winner and he and his “flock” have been “landing” at businesses that are committed to keeping their office and property litter free. They continue to look for nominations for litter free businesses to host Scuttle. Additionally, this year, the group is conducting the “Make-a-Crab” contest, similar to last year’s heron contest – except with Delmarva’s favorite crustacean.

Call the Chamber for more information on those projects. Also under this Division are our Arts & Entertainment Network which includes the Arts and Entertainment District, 3rd Friday and 1st Saturday groups which continue to grow and amaze us with their talent and vision month in and month out.

Next is our Advocacy & Government Relations Division:

city Elections: The Chamber in cooperation with Salisbury University will hold a city of Salisbury Debate in late October to give those voters within the city limits the opportunity to meet and hear the positions of those candidates on various topics of concern. Hopefully, the voters will be more educated and able to vote on Nov. 3 for the candidate that best fits their goals and objectives.

Henry S. Parker Complex Expansion: The Chamber has gone on record in support of the County receiving the land donation from the city of Salisbury with the desire to expand the playing fields for baseball and soccer and other sports which will have a huge economic impact.

At the same time, as with the county, the Chamber wants to protect and minimize disruption to the eco-system. The county has indicated that it intends to over-manage by 25 percent the city’s expectations of the environmental concerns including a well cap integrity assurance to not contaminate the water supply that runs through that piece of property to be conveyed to the county.

Building soccer fields on a small piece of this acquired property will be the least disruptive use of the land. We commend the county for their forward thinking.

Fire Service Agreement: Trying to assist in finding an acceptable solution that does not and will not compromise the safety and well-being of the citizens of both the city and county. More to come on this topic.

City of Salisbury Inventory Tax: On going discussion about phasing out this 45 percent tax on a sliding scale over several years. A work in progress; stay tuned.

Industry Roundtable Discussions: Our Chamber conducted six consecutive Wednesday Noon meetings featuring six key industry categories within our Chamber service area. This was an opportunity for the panel that consisted of city and county leadership to listen and learn from the various industries what they (government) can do to assist them in growing their business base in the market.

These sessions were successful and well attended. The Chamber will make available to all parties the minutes from each session as well as releasing a “white paper” as a recap shortly.

Alcohol Abuse and Illicit Drug Use: Working with various agencies to try and get a handle on this and related violent crimes in the city and the County. Statistically get it right when it comes to quoting stats on per 1000 population crime rankings. For example, during a conversation with Dr. Memo Diriker head of the BEACON Group at Salisbury University, he said” when you and I talk about Salisbury we usually mean the Metro Core. On some government data tables Salisbury means only the city of Salisbury. Unfortunately for us, most of the crime in our Metro Core occurs inside the city boundaries. The city is where large concentrations of people and commerce exist. So, when you take the total number of crime and divide it only by the city’s population, you get something like 74-75 crimes per thousand. If, on the other hand, you use total crime numbers from the Metro Core and divide those by the Metro Core population, you get a number closer to 27-28 per thousand, which is about the same as the national (27.3) and Maryland (26.6).” Regardless, one violent crime is one too many in our city or County.

Curfew, city of Salisbury: In light of the above stats, the Chamber understands why some neighborhoods in Salisbury are asking for a curfew and why some of our government leaders are calling for a curfew in the city of Salisbury. There’s no quick fix here. And as Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis says repeatedly: “We can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem.”

We need youth centers for these kids that gives them something to do other than hangout on the streets — but that costs dollars. We need to build our mentoring program for the some 750 young people that have taken the initiative — raised their hand and said “I need help.”

Right now that pool of young people asking for a mentor has not been tapped. Imposing a curfew from a business perspective creates a terrible image on our community. It’s a roadblock to future business locating here in the city or county, not to mention hiring and recruiting families to move here, work and live.

A curfew casts a shadow over future business perception. The answer is not a simple one … but … there has to be a “Means” without “Extremes”.

Next comes our Business & Economic Development Division:

This Division includes Business Affairs, Economic Development, Workforce Development, Permit Issues, as well as the various Business Sectors.

Economic Forecast: Our 28th Annual Lower Shore Economic Forecast is coming Dec. 17 at Wor-Wic Community College and at noon that day, our Annual Legislative Luncheon where we have a panel of our elected officials that rep us in Annapolis and we will get their vision and perspective on what will be the target items in the 2016 General Assembly.

E-DAT Committee:  E-DAT stands for “Economic Development Action Team.” This committee created by and under the leadership of the Chamber has been working for over a year perfecting a single form for city or County Planning, Zoning and Permits applications.

When you walk into the Government Office Building and are directed to this department, a concierge would provide you with this single form already checked off with specific departments to go to for processing of your request. In addition, we’re working with the city and county on a “one-check” process.

In other words, you write a single check instead of “many” small checks to each department for your application. This is a “work in progress” and we’re excited about a special Economic Development Office across the street from the Government Office Building that will open soon in the old PNC Bank office space to assist and simply this progress.

I could go on and on because there are a lot of projects that we’re “public” about and some that we’re very “quietly working the system.”

So, the next time you see me and ask “What’s going on at the Chamber?” be prepared to sit awhile.

These are exciting times at the Chamber and in our city and county. As a member, get involved with one of our networks within a division that hits your hot button.

As I say to the new Chamber members during Chamber 101 orientation, “I’ll meet you halfway but you have to do your part and meet me in the middle” because I only have time to do what matters.

Ernie Colburn is CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.


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