New Staff, Strategy, Funding And Name: Traverse City's Chamber Eyes Big 2020
By Craig Manning | Dec. 21, 2019
2020 is shaping up to be a very big year of change for what was the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Last week, board members of TraverseCONNECT and the Chamber officially approved a plan to merge. Previously, TraverseCONNECT, the area’s regional economic development organization, has acted as the parent entity to the Chamber. The two organizations will move forward under the brand of “Traverse Connect,” with new staff, new capital, and new strategies aimed at driving the local economy.
Warren Call, president and CEO, tells The Ticker the merger will allow the organization to “provide even greater value to our region’s businesses.” Traverse Connect “reintroduced” itself to the community this fall, touting a new three-year strategic plan aimed at turning the area into “a top economic destination” by 2030. Call says that, from 2010 to 2017, the region lost 10 percent of its “mid-career professionals,” or those in the 35-49 age bracket. By helping existing businesses grow and attracting new businesses and talent, Traverse Connect hopes to create more competitive-wage, year-round jobs that are not dependent on tourism.
Components of the Traverse Connect merger and new strategic plan include:
-Combining board leadership: Call says all existing TraverseCONNECT board members and all existing Chamber board members were invited to join the board of the new Traverse Connect. The organization also plans to appoint several new board members in January to bring fresh ideas to the table and drive implementation of the new strategic plan.
-Expanding its staff: Part of the three-year strategic plan is the addition of four all-new staff positions, which the organization has been filling throughout the fall. At the end of October, Traverse Connect hired Katherine DeGood as its first director of marketing and communications, followed by Brenda McClellan as director of investor engagement. DeGood previously worked as senior manager of corporate communications at Hagerty, while McClellan joins from Chase Bank, where she served as a business banking relationship manager. This month, Traverse Connect appointed Camille Hoisington, formerly of Boomerang Catapult, as head of strategic projects. Call says he is in the midst of interviews for the fourth and final new position: director of economic development.
-Building new digital infrastructure assets: Central to the new strategic plan is the development of three new websites. The first is a new comprehensive Traverse Connect website – set to go live in January – that will incorporate all the functionality of the current Traverse Connect website and all the functionality of the current Chamber site, plus several new features. The second is a new website geared toward attracting new workforce talent to Traverse City; Call estimates the site will launch by spring. Finally, Traverse Connect is also developing a new “regional digital dashboard” to tie in with the goals of its new strategic plan. "If you read through the strategic plan, there are a number of metrics that we are going to be keeping an eye on, both short and long-term,” Call says. “We will not only be tracking how we perform to those metrics, but we will also be publishing that data, so that the community understands where we are having success and where we are having challenges.”
-Seeking new capital investment: Call says the ultimate goal is to take Traverse Connect into the new decade “reorganized, recapitalized, and refocused.” As part of that mission, he’s been seeking new investments and increased contributions from local businesses, nonprofits, and the public sector. So far, Call says almost all of its private sector and nonprofit investors have agreed to increase their investments for 2020. “We’ve got small businesses that are going to increase their basic chamber membership from $400 to $500 a year,” he says. “And then we’ve also got a number of companies that are at the $10,000-plus level.” These “bedrock investors” include Blue Cross Blue Shield, Munson Healthcare, Hagerty, Cherry Capital Airport, Boomerang Catapult, Northwestern Michigan College, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Priority Health, Traverse City Tourism, and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Call adds that the new three-year plan also calls for “a small minority of public sector funding,” which has not yet been secured.
Elsewhere, Traverse Connect will be looking at staffing and programming to establish how the organization should look going forward. Call notes that there have been several staff departures in recent months that will need to be filled, alongside the new positions. The most substantial of those are Whitney Waara, who left her position as the Chamber’s executive director for a job with Traverse City Tourism; and Kent Wood, who is stepping down from his full-time role as the Chamber’s director of government relations to launch a consulting firm called Borealis Strategic, LLC. Call tells The Ticker Traverse Connect will continue to work with Wood on a contract basis, but is also searching for a new full-time, in-house person.
As for programming, Call says Traverse Connect will “continue to provide a Chamber of Commerce function,” with programs for professional development, business-to-business networking, and more. Existing programs such as the Chamber Ambassadors, FUSE Young Professionals, and Leadership Grand Traverse will all continue under the umbrella of Traverse Connect – though a few may be due for some changes. For instance, Call says that FUSE will likely revert back to its old name, the Traverse City Young Professionals.
“Those programs that are really the cornerstone of our talent development and professional development function will all continue,” Call says. “They are all being looked at for ways that they can be improved and brought in line with the priorities of our new strategic plan.”Comment