The North Tampa Bay Chamber is a finalist in the 2022 Chamber of the Year award, an honor presented by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE).
The ACCE, based in Alexandria, Virginia, has members affiliated with more than 1,600 chambers of commerce, and related business and economic development organizations. In total, it represents more than 9,000 professionals in the industry.
The award recognizes the leadership role chambers of commerce have in their communities.
The North Tampa Bay Chamber is one of 12 from across the country that has made it to the final round. There are three finalists in each of four divisions, which are based on annual revenue, membership, area population and other factors.
The winners will be announced on July 27, during the Awards Show at ACCE’s Annual Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Hope Kennedy, president and CEO of the North Tampa Bay Chamber, and Javan Grant, the chamber board’s chairman, said they are delighted and gratified by the chamber’s recognition.
Kennedy, who has been a chamber executive for about two decades, said this is the first time that a chamber she’s affiliated with has been named a finalist for the national honor.
“This is like the Academy Awards for chambers of commerce,” Kennedy said.
When she found the chamber was a finalist, she said: “I made sure I read the email three times.”
Chambers are invited to compete for the honor, based on data they already have submitted to the organization. Once invited, they must submit a detailed application, she said.
Initially, Kennedy wasn’t sure if the chamber could put together a competitive application, within the available time frame.
“They had an informational webinar, and I will not lie, I was extraordinarily intimidated,” Kennedy said.
But Grant told her: “Hope, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
So, she and Grant enlisted some help and divvied up the duties to compile the necessary information, create the desired presentation and meet the deadline.
The exercise, Grant said, reminded him of the chamber’s many accomplishments — which he said are easy to forget about in the moment, but add up over time.
This isn’t the first time the North Tampa Bay Chamber has been singled out for excellence.
It was named the 2019 Chamber of the Year for the state of Florida.
That award was based on work accomplished in 2019, Kennedy said. The national award covers the years 2020 and 2021.
As part of its 31-page entry, the chamber submitted a synopsis of two specific programs for the judges to consider.
One program involved the chamber’s work to help its members during COVID-19 to get the word out that they were open for business.
One way it did that was through a Chamber Road Show that Kennedy put together. She visited companies to talk with business owners about their services and how they were managing to stay open during the pandemic. The stories were shared through videos posted on the chamber’s social media channels.
Another way it helped its members was by partnering with a chamber member, ACME on the Go, which is a digital billboard company. The digital billboards were placed in front of companies to spread the word that the business was open.
In another initiative, the chamber reimagined its annual awards ceremony.
It conducted the ceremony virtually, with scattered watch parties. And, it based its awards on the chamber’s core values of integrity, innovation, collaboration and inclusion. It also recognized people who served as community heroes during the pandemic.
The chamber’s submission for the national award covers everything from how it generates income, to how it identifies its key advocacy issues, to how it positions itself to address future challenges.
Forward thinking has served the chamber well in the past, Kennedy said, explaining how its ability to harness technology enabled it to adapt quickly when COVID-19 shut everything down.
The chamber’s move away from a reliance on events to generate income also proved prescient, when the pandemic forced cancellations of big public gatherings.
By that time, the chamber had already shifted to a membership-fee based organization.
Now, 85% of its revenue comes from membership fees, and the remainder comes from rental income, events and sponsorships.
Its rental incomes come from subletting office space.
The leases are for a year and when someone moves out because they require a larger space, that’s a reason for celebration, the chamber’s submission says. So far, four businesses have moved up to bigger spaces.
Grant said the North Tampa Bay Chamber works to be a catalyst for change in the region.
Currently, one of the biggest challenges is getting the business community re-engaged, both Kennedy and Grant said. Before COVID hit, the chamber was a vibrant organization with enthusiastic and engaged members. Now, it is working to revive that level of engagement.
“Our challenge is getting those individuals who are in their PJs, or whatever they’re wearing, out and recognize the benefit of mingling with others,” Grant said.
Plus, it’s not enough to focus on the needs of today, Kennedy said.
“We have to be planning for our future. What’s next? What’s next for our community? What’s next for their business? What’s next for us to tackle?”
“What does the workforce of the future look like? Now, more than ever, that’s going to play such a pivotal role in what we’re doing here at the chamber,” she said.
Still, the recent recognition feels good and is energizing, Kennedy said.
It would be great to walk across the stage, carrying a shiny piece of hardware, she said.
But in one sense, the chamber already is a winner.
“There is no other Florida chamber in any of the other finalist categories,” she said.
Published June 22, 2022