Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce
Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce
“It’s amazing how many people just want to give hugs.”
That’s according to John Safin, President and CEO of the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce, in Goodyear, Arizona, as he fondly declared that his chamber “is as much business as it is family.” As a regional chamber, it represent “just over 500” members spanning four cities in Arizona: Avondale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, and Tolleson.
In terms of economic diversity, the region is home to several major industries, namely healthcare, technology, education, tourism, and agriculture. But for area businesses across all industries, whether large firms or sole proprietor “mom and pop” shops, the Southwest Valley Chamber partners up with all four cities’ economic development departments to help business owners accomplish what they need to.
In order to better tailor its services to meet the individualized needs of its members, the Southwest Valley Chamber categorizes its member businesses in terms of who their audience is. That helps them determine how to best set each member up for success.
For example, Safin elaborated, “for somebody that’s a realtor or an insurance agent, they’re a little more street-level, and they need to get their name out. They need to have more opportunities to meet people and get that one-on-one relationship going.” However, Safin continued, even the needs of someone in those same industries will be different depending on how long they’ve been in business. “A real estate agent who’s been in the business for twenty years is not going to have the same needs as somebody who’s just starting in the business,” Safin explained. “The more established person has a referral network, so they don’t need to be on the streets so often. They just need to be visible and present when it’s suitable for what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Then, there are banks, hotels, restaurants—places that need people tend to seek out, and have to go to themselves in order to receive their services. But even those types of businesses aren’t all the same, as Safin pointed out, drawing a point of contrast between banks, hotels, restaurants, and shops, and another of the area’s major employers: hospitals; in particular, the Abrazo West Campus in Goodyear, Arizona.
By Safin’s estimates, Abrazo’s trauma center takes care of just about everything for at least a quarter of the state’s residents. “If somebody who was 300 miles away was to have their arm severed in a car accident,” Safin explained, “they’re coming here by helicopter.” Which puts places like Abrazo in a unique class of businesses: yes, people have to seek them out for their services; but chances are, should they find themselves in need of those services, they’re not having one of their best days.
“The hospital is not going to be at that street level. They want a different point of view,” Safin said. “They want people to think of them as being part of the community, rather than just [where they go] when they’re hurt or need medical attention.” So, Safin added, “we adjust what’s needed, in terms of services, to everybody.”
One way in which the Southwest Valley Chamber strives to meet its members needs is with the SCORE Mentor program, which allows businesses to take advantage of personalized opportunities to grow and expand. SCORE is a free resource that offers representatives who will meet with business owners on an individual basis and help them devise a plan for reaching their goals. The Southwest Valley Chamber’s partnership with one of the local colleges grants members further access to “a growing relationship with a small business development center.” Other services that members can take advantage of include a networking events and educational seminars.
In addition to providing a wide array of services to its members, the Southwest Valley Chamber has also recently undergone a completely new look. Their re-branding campaign features a “new logo, new color scheme, [and] a new website”; it even includes the development of a chamber app. With respect to developing technology, Safin said, the chamber’s new website addresses the evolving needs of modern businesses. “Everyone lives on their smartphone or other device,” Safin said. So, in addition to having a chamber app that anyone can download for free, the Southwest Valley Chamber’s new website “has information that would be helpful to a business owner who has an idea at 11:00 at night,” he added.
With an acute awareness of the fact that that business owners already have myriad responsibilities on their plates, the Southwest Valley Chamber made a conscious decision to optimize the usefulness of the website by providing a comprehensive assortment of links and documents from the Small Business Administration, the chamber’s city partners, and the IRS. The website also offers webinars, some of which are free to anyone. “This way,” Safin explained, “if somebody needs to know about customer service [for example], then they can get a training class online whenever they want.”
For people looking for a more hands-on, or face-to-face experience, the chamber offers a truly unique program called the Southwest Valley Chamber Skill Builders. Safin described the program as being in the tradition of the “lunch and learn” events that many chambers and organizations sponsor. What makes it unique, however, is that it’s run by members, for members; anybody who wants to teach a professional development seminar or host some form of training event, can do so at any time using the chamber’s facilities as site location for the event.
“It’s winners all around with this one,” Safin said of the Southwest Valley Chamber Skill Builders. “The chamber helps out a member by offering a space for them to promote themselves and what they can teach; the members get an opportunity to learn something new that can help their business; and all of the events are open to the community. So it brings no-cost or low-cost training to somebody who’s looking for professional development,” all while helping area businesses establish relationships and build rapport with other area business owners and consumers.
One of the more popular recent events was hosted by an area power company. “They had their media department come in here with their equipment,” Safin explained. “Television cameras, a green screen—they set up a little mini studio in our conference room and gave a half-day training session on how to speak to the media,” he said. “And the room was full.”
As for what the future might bring for the Southwest Valley Chamber, Safin had this to say: “Business is always changing, and I’ve said since I arrived [at the chamber] that the chamber will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the businesses in the community.” Not surprisingly, the chamber’s ongoing conversation about the evolution of business has also included talk of the changes in workforce, and the growing role of millennials in the workforce.
As a growing number of millennials find themselves in leadership roles within the business community, the demographic continues to reshape the norms once governing the typical nine-to-five job. For example, Safin noted, many younger workers aren’t really looking for a traditional office setting. “That’s part of the reason why Lyft and Uber are attracting a lot of people,” he explained, “because [workers] get to set their own hours. They make whatever money they want, and they go on with their lives.”
Safin added that another thing to take into account in the future is the fact that, since the advent of Smartphones, just about everybody carries their office with them all the time. This, in turn, changes the role of the traditional workplace. “There will always be a need for an office, or a place to gather,” Safin explained. “Anybody who thinks they can solely live on their phone has never asked anyone to help them move a sofa,” he added with a chuckle. “Because I guarantee that if someone has 2,000 friends on Facebook, they’re still going to have a hard time finding to give them a ride or to come start their car.”
Formulating a workable plan for the future, then, means trying to stay a step ahead of the changing needs of businesses. “It’s not that things are going to change completely,” Safin said. “It’s just evolution. Chambers will have to change too.”
It would seem, however, that Safin and the Southwest Valley Chamber are more than equipped to navigate the changing role of chambers of commerce in a 21st-century economy. And, ultimately, the underlying goal driving the activity at the Southwest Valley Chamber will remain the same: to do whatever they can to help fellow neighbors and friends succeed. Fostering a strong, foundational sense of community is part of what makes the Southwest Valley Chamber so good at what it does. As a matter of fact, as Safin noted, it’s not uncommon to hear members at a networking event expressing sentiment along the lines of, “This is the best darn chamber on the planet.”
And, really, what could be better than that?
For more information on the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce, visit www.southwestvalleychamber.org.