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What does the Chamber of Commerce do for you?

Several weeks ago, the Herald & Tribune called attention to the changed look of the local Chamber of Commerce logo.
The new design, used on letterhead, envelopes and for promotional items, simply says, “Start Your Adventure, Johnson City.”
It raised questions about the commitment the Chamber has to businesses beyond the Johnson City city limits.
We talked with Chamber CEO Gary Mabrey in our offices recently, and asked him about the change in the logo and whether it reflected a change in the direction of the Chamber.
“The lack of ‘Jonesborough’ in the brand doesn’t eliminate ‘top of mind’ awareness of the town,” Mabrey said.
He explained that both the ‘Where Pioneer Spirit Began’ and the ‘Start Your Adventure’ logos are the Visitors Center brand, the national branding for ad purchases, because the “name is too long with Jonesborough and Washington County to hook people in.”
However, the Chamber’s official tag line, with Johnson City, Washington County and Jonesborough listed, has since been added on most applications.
Mabrey was quick to point out that when he started working at the chamber in 1987, it was his initiative to have the name “Jonesborough” added to the logo which was accomplished in 1990.
He stressed the importance of membership in the Chamber.
“The Chamber is 87 percent small businesses,” he said. “We currently have 37 businesses in our membership that have the Jonesborough ZIP code, but there are obviously a lot more than that who are non-members.”
He urges businesses to join for the networking opportunities and to become part of the “ongoing dialogue” with local and state government.
“The chamber is going to have input and we are going to attempt to influence,” Mabrey said.
Is the value equal to the membership cost, which has increased by 3 percent this year? Mabrey says, “Yes.”
“If a business is having trouble, but wants to join, we can split their payments up. If a business is having a cash flow problem, we will listen. But the lobbying and networking benefits businesses get from membership are definitely worth the cost,” he said.
The cost of membership in the local chamber is $335 per year for a small business with 1-5 employees. The figure compares to Jackson’s $250; Rutherford County’s (Murfreesboro) $220; Cleveland/Bradley County’s $275; Cookeville’s $225-$275; and Clarksville’s $280. Kingsport’s fee is the same as Johnson City and chamber membership in Nashville is $350.
What do you get for your $335? In addition to lobbying and networking, there is also a membership sticker, and listings in the relocation guide and membership directory.
But even with that, Mabrey says, you get out of the membership what you put into it.
“You can do business in this region,” Mabrey said. “You’ve just got to get up, get out and get with it. Business is not coming in the front door.”
Indeed. Some businesses’ doors aren’t opening as much as we would like. So, the question here seems to be,” Will a chamber membership help my business or should I spend my money elsewhere?”
With so many different businesses, the merchants of each one will need to figure out what is the best fit for their future success.