“To improve the quality of life and the standard of living.”
Ask anyone involved with the Mason Area Chamber of Commerce what they’re goal is, and they’ll repeat those exact words.
Located at 148 E Ash St. in the heart of Mason, sits the Mason Area Chamber of Commerce office. The office, which is no larger than many other places in Mason, is the major contributor to the business landscape around Mason. Partnering with about 300 members, the Chamber is a force in the area and attracts businesses and individuals.
The Chamber wasn’t always what it’s known as today. Like many other chambers, it faced a problem that is challenging to bounce back from.
“The main goal that the chamber has right now is to rebuild from the recession,” said Doug Klein. “We got hit pretty hard. We ran through our savings account. I actually had to work for free for six months.”
Klein now works 25 hours per week, and looks to increase that in his final years as the Chamber’s executive director. The hours are the result of where the recession left the Chamber, and it eventually wants to afford a director who can work 30 hours per week.
“A lot of our businesses right now are slammed because they don’t have enough employees,” Klein said, who doubles as an adjunct professor at Lansing Community College. “They’re training a lot of employees. At the same time, that reduces our volunteer pool a bit. That makes it a challenge here right now.”
Despite the economic blows, businesses and the Chamber thrive because they rely on each other. The Chamber hosts networking events to get the word out to business owners. Even non-members attend the events. In return, businesses pay dues to the Chamber. There are five levels: basic, business, professional, executive or corporate. Each level offers different benefits.
The Chamber hosts events throughout the year for businesses and the community. It heads networking events, and community events which gives businesses an opportunity to sponsor something. Events include Good Morning, Mason! an hour-long session that gives each member five minutes to address the public about what’s going on in the community and their business. It also hosts concerts, dinners, golf outings and seasonal events such as holiday parties, Independence Day celebrations and trick-or-treating.
Kathy Wakefield of Mason State Bank said, “Each event each year just keeps getting better and better. We draw so many people from, not just from this community, but from Lansing and surrounding areas because there’s so much here.”
Businesses involved with the Chamber are looking to better their economic standing, gain exposure and position themselves on the path to success. The Chamber prides itself on its unity and the cohesiveness of its board members, to its businesses, to the volunteers.
At the holiday party and mixer, Chamber Vice President Donald Kill said, “There’s a lot of businesses that are the same thing, but they’re sitting at the same table. The two banks are sitting at the same table talking to each other and stuff, so it’s no big deal. Yeah, they’re competing businesses, but they’re all Chamber members and that’s what they’re here for.”
Wakefield said, “We don’t think of it as competing here in Mason. We’re all here because we all love Mason and we’re friends. Everybody here just gets along. We don’t feel like we’re competing.”
Klein said one reason the Chamber has flourished is its impartiality when it comes to government entities and interests. This wasn’t always the case, however. Years ago, the board of directors endorsed the proposal for airport expansion. The next year, the new board voted against the expansion.
Klein said, “Each time, we lost members. So, it didn’t make any sense to continue … There was a time, probably almost two years ago now, when there was a lot of pressure from the Lansing (Regional) Chamber to have our folks take positions on public issues and endorse candidates. Our board simply says no, that’s not what we do … We leave that to the other folks.”
The Chamber reflects on its strength in numbers when looking itself. To see where the Chamber began, in 1972, and where it is now, one of the biggest identifiers is the number of members. Growing from 200 to 300 members, and bringing eight churches into the mix, the Chamber has recruited large numbers of businesses, members, and volunteers. Klein insists that the reason the Chamber is where it’s at now, is the volunteers, saying it almost relies exclusively on volunteers alone.
“Given our position here in Mason, our goal is to be the best small-town chamber in Michigan,” Klein said. “I think we’re there. I challenge anyone to say we’re not.”