Delaware Small Business Chamber

Newport County Chamber of Commerce

Newark, DE

Amie Salsbury

Staff Writer

When you think of a chamber of commerce, one of the first qualities that comes to mind is advocacy. But, what other attributes are important for the success of a business community? Communication, versatility, and adaptability are a few that are immediately evoked. Newport County, Rhode Island is a thriving and active business community. We spoke with Erin Donovan-Boyle, Executive Director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce in Middletown, Rhode Island and found out how her chamber embodies all of the aforementioned characteristics and more!

Having grown up in the area, Donovan-Boyle’s career has “always had some sort of connection with the chamber.” She got her professional start in government relations, working for a small, lobbying firm based in Providence, Rhode Island. Since then, she’s witnessed many changes and seen firsthand how the Newport County Chamber continues to grow and evolve.

Donovan-Boyle “started out doing defense related initiatives and projects with the chamber,” and noted that the economic development initiatives related to that industry have grown exponentially since she started her career. Donovan-Boyle elaborated on that point, adding that a lot of that growth has to do with the birth of the Southeastern New England Industry Alliance, or SENEDIA, a trade association that started out as part of the chamber. Today, SENEDIA is a successful, stand-alone organization engaged in targeted workforce development and support for the defense sector.

SENEDIA isn’t the only organization to gain momentum from the chamber; the same is also true of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. Being in a coastal region on an island state, much of Newport County’s business community “focuses on defense industries,” Donovan-Boyle noted. However, as a whole, the goal of the Newport County Chamber is to foster “a good, healthy economy,” and doing so means taking a more holistic approach to economic development, and remaining cognizant of the fact that many different sectors play equally important roles in supporting “the lifeblood of the economy.”

Some of the major, local industries include marine trades and defense, and hospitality and tourism. “From a general economic development, state investment, and opportunities for growth [perspective],” Donovan-Boyle explained, “it’s all across these industry sectors.” Diversity, of course, speaks to a wide range of people. But with such breadth of sectors comes certain challenges. In order to advocate for such a range of industries, Donovan-Boyle said that the chamber is continually working to develop “a variety of programming to meet the needs of all those different types of organizations.”

Of the approximately 1,100 members at the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, 60 percent have under 10 employees. Donovan-Boyle said that it’s the chambers job to stay true to their mission in serving those small business, and provide them with the right tools to help each member grow their business. By “trying to identify what the main needs of the general businesses are, and complementing what [they’ve] already been doing with those qualitative programs,” those at the Newport County Chamber strive to fulfil their role and act “as a resource for all those types of businesses.”

How is that done? Well, Donovan-Boyle explained that it all starts with an introductory process: “For all of our members, they sit down with staff individually when they sign up, and depending on what the company is and what they’re looking to get out [of a membership] and why they’re interested in being a member ... we can pinpoint and say, ‘Well, it looks like you’re trying to get this out of a chamber membership, so you should pay attention to X,Y, and Z.’”

One of the programs the chamber offers is a Chamber 101 seminar every other month. “It’s for new members and members with maybe some new employees, or just [employees who] need a refresher about what it is that the chamber offers,” Donovan-Boyle said. From there, people can prioritize why and how they want to benefit from the chamber.

Other events are quite popular as well, especially for current members. One such example is the quarterly economic update luncheon series. At these events, business members have the opportunity to listen to a speaker talk about relevant topics: “Whether it’s something that we know locally, or statewide … or if it’s more broad and general,” participants gain critical information about the state of the economy.

In terms of networking events, members are always eager for opportunities. “We do business after hours events on a monthly basis,” Donovan-Boyle said, “and they are still very popular. The sexier the venue, you can imagine, the larger the turnout, and we have some sexy venues down here,” she added with a laugh. With such a prime geographic location, it’s easy to see why! The Newport County Chamber takes advantage of such venues as the Rosecliff Mansion and the restaurants at the Newport Harbor Hotel when it comes time to host an event.

Also, in recognition of the fact that soon half the nation’s workforce will be members of the Millennial generation, the Newport County Chamber has an Emerging Leaders group, which is similar to what other chambers might call their “young professionals committee.”

Donovan-Boyle explained that the Newport County Chamber is adapting its Emerging Leaders programming “to how Millennials like to get their information, like to network, and like to learn for professional development.” Recognizing the importance of this generation is essential for maximizing the economy’s potential, and the Newport County Chamber is right at the helm of that in their community.

For example, “Millennials don’t necessarily want to network for the sake of networking. They’re looking to get some real qualitative content and connections out of their networking,” Donovan-Boyle said. Specific ways in which the chamber is actively working to accommodate this generation is by launching a blog on its website, which will include guest blog posts from members of the Emerging Leaders committee. To further attract Millennials, the chamber is also working with a local company called Super Fun Activities Club, which brings gaming and different types of activities to networking events. Morphing team building and networking into a fun and unique get-together engages conversation and fosters the type of meaningful connections that so many of Millennial population crave.

But that’s not all. Often, when people think “chamber of commerce,” they think solely about small businesses and developing the economy. And, often, that’s true. But, to further its fulfillment of that role, the Newport County Chamber engages in extensive volunteer work and community involvement as well. Donovan-Boyle noted that because the chamber “is a membership-led organization … [they] can get feedback from individuals about what types of projects they want to do.” She hopes that the chamber will be able to make a yearlong commitment to one nonprofit organization, so that that organization becomes synonymous with the chamber, in a way; people will come to understand that if you participate with the young professionals group, or with the Emerging Leaders group through the chamber, you’ll also be participating in another type of volunteer program.

In fact, 75 of the Newport County Chamber’s members are nonprofit organizations themselves, and Donovan-Boyle says that those nonprofits face many of the same issues that any small business faces. With such a significant membership, the chamber actively works to support these nonprofits as much as the business community. The chamber itself “has a 501c3 nonprofit organization called the Newport County Development Council. The council helps rebuild projects throughout the community (though it specifically targets high-tech firms and businesses in the undersea technology field), and offers a co-work shared space. One such co-work share facility funded by the council is called the Cambridge Workbar, which Donovan-Boyle described as “a microcosm of what the chamber does.” This type of program is beneficial for people who, for example, have a primary office in Providence, but live in Newport, and want to be able to work from their hometown on occasion.

Overall, Donovan-Boyle said, “our role [at the chamber] is just to enhance the opportunity and provide services for the business community, but also for the local community as a whole.” She believes that the Newport County Chamber should be a resource for its entire community, and that staying true to its mission of fostering a thriving local economy with good opportunities will help to improve all other aspects of life in the community.

A community is like a machine. By working together as a collective device, the machine drives itself forward. Newport County Chamber of Commerce is certainly a very well-oiled vehicle.

For more information on the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, visit