This interview with Chamber President Greg Reibman about the Wellesley Chamber joining forces with the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber originally appeared in the Wellesley Townsman and Wicked Local Wellesley.
Twenty years ago, smaller chambers of commerce were very different entities. They tended to focus on local projects, tax issues, and ribbon-cuttings. Today, the business climate is far more challenging, especially since the arrival of the pandemic. Have local chambers been able to keep up with the needs of their business members, or are many just dying off?
In my nine years at our chamber we’ve worked hard to keep up with the times, the trends and the technology.
We cherish the small brick-and-mortar businesses in our communities but have also worked hard to be relevant and responsive to our technology companies, financial services, life sciences, education, medical, legal, real estate and other sectors. And we’ve recognized the critical role our nonprofits play in making our communities special and make it a priority that they have a seat at the table as well.
And I will say we’ve been successful. We’ve more than doubled our membership in the past nine years. We’ve ended every year in the black. And we are now the eighth largest chamber in Massachusetts.
How many members does Newton-Needham have? How many members will Wellesley add to that, assuming existing members opt to join the regional chamber?
We have just under 900 members, including about 50 active members who are based in Wellesley. Wellesley is already our third largest market, after Newton and Needham.
The Wellesley Chamber had about 200 members, including some overlapping businesses that belonged to both.
But we know that there’s a lot of businesses, nonprofits and even solo entrepreneurs in town who didn’t belong to either organization. We’ll be working hard to demonstrate what a chamber does and how we can help owners, managers and employees prosper through networking, marketing and camaraderie.
How does the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber attract new members and maintain the older ones?
There’s no one answer to that, since our members have different needs. We offer networking opportunities (these days virtually) that aim to help members find other members to do business with. We provide workshops and seminars (also virtually) designed to provide information on everything from tax laws to getting the most from LinkedIn. We offer marketing tools, directories and social media opportunities that aim to promote our members as well as shopping locally.
And we share a lot of information our businesses and nonprofits need to operate, something that has been especially important during the pandemic. We encourage people to learn more here.
But, as with any business, the best way to grow is through customer, or in our case, member referrals. I’d urge anyone who is considering joining our chamber to talk to our current members. I think you’ll be impressed.
What has Newton-Needham done to help businesses struggling in the pandemic?
Since the COVID shut down in March we hosted 106 webinars, covering everything from the Paycheck Protection Program to tips for marketing your businesses. And every time Gov. Baker and the federal government issue new regulations we synthesize that information in a way designed to be helpful to businesses and nonprofits.
We’ve also devoted a lot of energy urging the public to shop and dine locally. I spend a lot of time talking to state and local officials as well as reporters advocating for resources and making sure everyone understands the challenges our employers face.
How many full time and part time staff members do you have? Are they paid?
We’re a small but mighty staff of four full-time employees. But we’re really a volunteer organization run by our members who participate on our committees and help plan and run our events and programming.
What adjustments will you need to make with the addition of Wellesley?
The first thing we need to do is not assume we know what Wellesley businesses and nonprofits need or want. That’s why, working with the Wellesley Chamber’s board, we’ve created a transition committee to plan our next steps.
The transition team includes Greg Hoffman from Hoffman Insurance Services; Gillian Kohli from Wellesley Books; John Looney from Newton-Wellesley Hospital; Susan Maggioni from MassBay Community College; Ivette Mesmar from Brookline Bank; and Eleanor Uddo from Feigenbaum & Uddo.
On a longer-term basis, we will also be will be forming a Wellesley subcommittee within our chamber devoted exclusively to Wellesley. The committee will serve as an advisory board to our board, staff and me to ensure that Wellesley’s interests are well represented in our advocacy and programming. This committee would also be empowered to organize events and speak up on behalf of Wellesley businesses at Town Hall or other forums. It’s almost like having a mini-chamber inside our regional chamber.
What guarantees can you give current and potential Wellesley members that their voices and needs will be heard in what is obviously going to be a bigger and non-Wellesley-based group?
The Wellesley Chamber had a 61-year history of service to the town and its members. My team and our board of directors are committed to respecting those traditions and doing our utmost to win the confidence and support of Wellesley’s businesses and nonprofits.
But really, it will be Wellesley folks who determine how this works out. Our success will depend on how willing Wellesley business men and women and the town’s nonprofit leaders will be to participate in our programs and committees as we work to rebuild our economy in 2021 and the years to come.
What will be the advantages to the members who already belong to Newton-Needham?
Business doesn’t stop at municipal lines. Expanding into Wellesley gives everyone a chance to make more connections, sell more and grow their customer base.
Bringing our 900 member businesses and nonprofits together with Wellesley’s 200 members will also create one financially strong chamber that can produce robust programming and advocate for the economic and cultural vitality of our region for years to come.
What are your goals for 2021?
We’re going to be laser-focused on helping our businesses and nonprofits reopen, rebuild and recover. We’ve all lost so much over the past year, including loved ones, colleagues and cherished businesses. It’s going to take all of us, working together, to get our economy up and running again.
For information about joining the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber contact Lise Elcock at (617) 244-1864.