By Mark Blackney
Like the experiences of most business people, work at the Chamber is a seemingly never ending dance of having specific tasks to complete while taking care of our treasured customers and putting out fires. Sometimes at the end of the day, you wonder if it’s all worth it. What impact did you make today?
It seems to be hard to find that nugget of importance, but other days you are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. That time has occurred for the Clovis Chamber over the past year.
Our most recent and satisfying result happened on March 25th as we watched 13 high school students present their businesses before the Investor Panel of our Young Entrepreneurs Academy program hoping to receive start-up funds and support for their new companies. Watching these self-confident, passionate young people be able to speak as professionals, we were impressed with how far they have come since the start of class in November.
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, YEA!, has been a pure labor of love for my wife, Fran, who, as program manager, has given it her all since we were first contacted by the US Chamber to host the program. She and the dozens of business volunteers have given these students the gift of believing in themselves to succeed. They are repeatedly told to remember how many “cheerleaders”, sans pompoms, who are in their corner. Several have said they feel valued and supported. One young lady from the first class texted that many people had told her she couldn’t succeed but after taking this class, she feels she can do anything. Another from this year’s class was asked if he feels differently than when he started the class in November. He replied, “Oh yes. I’m much more confident”.
The students see the importance of good character and integrity both from advice and from the examples they have seen in the adults associated with the class. “Always be known as the good guy” is referenced over and over. They’ve learned that being late without texting in advance is disrespectful. They all send texts before class even if they’re going to be just a few minutes late. A mom of a 2014 student told us that never being late is what her son remembers the most from class. But I don’t think she appreciates his reminding her constantly. And many more thank you notes are being sent through the mail to business people since the start of class.
Parents have also expressed their gratitude for the skills their children have learned. From Brenda and Rene, Emily and Charles’s moms, who are accompanying them to Arizona for the semi-final competition, to another mom who was close to tears after seeing her anxious child actually speak with newly acquired confidence at the Investor Panel, the impact on their most precious gifts has been powerful.
The rewards for the Chamber have been just as significant. We take great pride in helping influence dozens of new entrepreneurs who will have an impact on the world financially with good character traits and integrity. The Chamber is also positively associated with a respected program. We couldn’t be more honored.
After producing BIG Hat Days for dozens of years, we are finally recognizing the lives we touch with our efforts. The most obvious impact is financial. The city of Clovis estimates that our two festivals have a “ripple” effect on the entire city of over $9 million dollars as the quarter million visitors to our events also shop throughout town. BIG Hat Days weekend is the largest for Old Town Merchants. And most of the profits for the chamber help keep our small business membership dues low so more can take advantage of the valuable benefits we have to offer. Many are working with Membership Director Diana Hunnicutt who has touched our lives, while many more are joining the Chamber.
We’re hearing from a number of vendors that this year’s event was the largest show of their entire careers, some going back over 20 years. They are ready to sign up for next year and will quickly spread the word about our success to other vendors that enhances the Chamber’s reputation. Event Director Tammi Walton, whose full time job is working with these sellers, will have even more applications for 2016.
The Chamber is proud of assisting non-profit groups at our events. Heavily discounted booths were packed with people interested in the wide variety of causes and charities. Funds paid to Boy Scout Troop 1854 for their terrific work as the clean-up crew will pay for 3 of them to attend camp this summer. The Clovis PD had long lines at their Driving while Texting course that will most likely save lives. And although they didn’t receive a financial reward, we give a hats off to the dozens of volunteers who worked during the show set-up and especially at the Michelob Ultra Beer Garden organized by our beloved Ellie Huston.
I want to talk about a company whose lives we have touched but most importantly they have touched ours. Chris and Shel Moore of Moore than SEO came in to the Chamber last summer since they were just starting their company. Recognizing the value of our benefits, they made the very smart decision to become a member immediately. When Diana heard about their work on social media, she made an arrangement for them to oversee the Chamber’s presence online. A year later, we couldn’t be any happier. They don’t just “post” online, they have made us a major player with their creative and innovative methods. The pinnacle of their work occurred at BIG Hat where the number of visitors on Facebook leapt to over 100,000 during the weekend both from hashtag sharing with vendors and a Treasure Hunt where people followed online clues to win $100. The greatest news is that their business has increased based on their work for us.
As the staff manned the Chamber booth we saw the best way that we touch peoples’ lives. All the happy smiles and the excited faces on the children made the entire weekend worth it. Best of all, many visitors took the time to thank us and talk about how great the tradition of BIG Hat Days has been for their families. How pleasing it is to be part of happy childhood memories.
As I talk about touching people’s lives, I end with how others have touched mine. In my 13 years with the Clovis Chamber, I have experienced adventures I never dreamed of doing, taken part in activities that have affected the community and best of all, I have met some great people from all walks of life who will stay as lifelong friends. I think I’m the truly lucky one.