By Teuta Shabani Towler on March 26, 2013
The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce’s new President/CEO Karen Brown is following John Bone’s footsteps in her own style with extra attention to details. Bone retired last October after 29 years in the post.
“I hope I’m here for a long time,” she said. “I hope to have John Bone’s longevity. Not sure I want to work 30 more years or not but I would like to retire from this job.”
Brown recently talked about evaluating previous projects implemented by the Chamber to see what worked and what didn’t.
“I’m not someone who’s ever satisfied with just doing the same thing year after year,” said Brown. “Something to freshen it up I think is really important. Keeps things relevant and everybody engaged in what we’re doing.”
She seems to be on the right track in terms of engaging new business owners. The Chamber organized a prospect reception Feb. 5 at Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant where 20 business owners attended and 17 of them joined the Chamber.
“Businesses join the Chamber all throughout the year, but events like this offer us a special opportunity to reach out to those who have expressed interest in our organization,” Brown said. “We take great pride in our services and can better support and meet the needs of area businesses when they understand the value of membership and join our organization.”
One of the new programs launched under Brown’s stewardship is the business retention program. The program identifies the needs of businesses to help them fulfill those needs and give them access to resources available through the Chamber.
It starts by asking survey questions online. Initially, the survey was sent to the Chamber’s members through e-mail. Now it’s available on the Chamber’s website for every business owner on the Outer Banks. The retention program was an idea that had been floating around the Chamber since last year, an idea Brown has turned into a reality.
Like her predecessor, she gives credit to the board and the staff for their hard work in making the program work.
After the survey, Brown plans to meet Chamber members one-on-one.
“I think it’s important to talk to them in person versus sending an e-mail,” she said. Part of her daily schedule is to call or visit Chamber members from Southern Shores to Hatteras Island.
She hopes to help existing businesses grow through the retention program.
When asked about diversifying tourism and real estate types of jobs, she said, “We’re always looking at new business, but 80 percent of new jobs are created by existing business.”
That’s why the Chamber is focused on helping established businesses grow through the retention program.
Another program started under Brown is Young Professionals. It targets professional workers under 40. They don’t have to be business owners or members of the Chamber to join. Young Professionals meet every third Thursday of the month.
“We want to build leaders for the future, and not just for the Chamber but for the whole community. It’s good for them to network together,” she said.
The Chamber has also started a 12 to 12 Luncheon. They invite 12 members to have lunch with the president, chairman of the board and chair-elect. They talk about what the Chamber is doing and members give feedback.
“Sometimes we forget to listen. We think we know what everybody wants and probably 50 percent of the time we’re pretty good but we need to ask questions and listen to those voices. We can think all day long it’s a great community event, but if it means nothing to 80 percent of your members, you need to stop doing it,” Brown said.
The old Guest Relation Committee is now the Hospitality Committee and organized a successful Job Fair, the first time on the Outer Banks.
Outer Banks and Currituck chambers are cooperating and organizing an event to be held in May called Celebration of Small Businesses.
The Road to Raleigh is a work in progress and that’ll include Chamber’s staff and board members keeping up with important legislation in Raleigh and raising voices about issues related to the Outer Banks.
There are 16 Chambers in the Northeast region of North Carolina, but the Outer Banks Chamber is the biggest. “We need to lead and not follow,” Brown said.
Brown is from Ocean City, N.J. and brings a decade of Chamber experience to the Outer Banks, including more than three years as the president/CEO of the Pike County, Ga. of Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Development Authority of Pike County.
She has over seven years of experience as a senior executive-level team member of the Bonita Springs, Fla. Chamber of Commerce.
Brown is a 2005 graduate of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Organization Management program as well as a graduate of the Oklahoma University Economic Development Institute.
She holds a bachelor of science degree in business management from Western Governors University, and she is pursuing her MBA in management and strategy.