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Boyle Chamber of Commerce ‘redefining’ its purpose

The Boyle County Chamber of Commerce is taking steps to become more relevant to its community, according to board chair Rick Waldon.

“Historically, the chamber played a very vital role in Danville’s history, and for whatever reason … it’s kind of lost some of its relevance, and we realize that,” Waldon said. “The manufacturing base that dominated the landscape 20 years ago is gone and likely not returning in the same fashion as before. Boyle County is now home to many more retail and small business operations and a growing number of one- or two-person companies that are run out of their home or small offices.”

Waldon said the chamber is basically redefining its purpose. “Clearly, the chamber is more than just Business After Hours. In all honesty, we’ve been terrible at branding ourselves and marketing ourselves.”

Therefore, Waldon said, the chamber is developing more specialized programs to support its small business members. “Since our business demographics and climate have changed significantly over the past 20 years, the chamber needed to change as well.”

He said beginning in January, the chamber began looking at how the organization can better support and impact the business community. In April, after a six-month nationwide search, Jeff Jewel was named executive director to help the chamber begin this transition.

A few new programs being developed include financing options “to help small businesses that need financing, whether they’re in their start-up phase or whether they’re a couple of years old.”

Waldon said this program could also help experienced business owners with loans “where banks can’t go.” 

For example, “non-qualifying loans for working capital. Since 2008, they’ve had huge changes in the banking industry and it’s kind of left a void there.”

Waldon said new business owners usually aren’t very well capitalized. “They don’t have a lot of collateral. And that used to be what a community bank would take care of. And they can’t do that anymore because of the laws.” 

So, Waldon said, the chamber is working with a financial group that will be able to help with these loans.

A business owner mentoring program is also in the works, which would be for companies that may be struggling to deal with the laws and regulations of owning a business.

Other programs currently being developed include credit card processing services and IT services.

A brand new freight assistance program is already in place. Waldon said, “If you want to ship a box across town, or you sold a container of stuff you need to get to Asia, they can help you do that and teach you how to do that to where you can get decent rates.”

In order to play a bigger role in this community again, Waldon said, “That involves advocacy.”

“One of the most significant areas members feel the chamber is needed is in advocacy, whether for a specific issue that is facing their business or industry, or one that impacts the business community as a whole.”

Advocacy also involves the chamber-sponsored political forums coming up this fall. “It will be very interesting, a lot of new ideas out there. A lot of people really want to shake it up,” Waldon said.

He said the chamber is also working closely with the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership.

“If the EDP can bring (new businesses) in, it’s our job to keep them here.”

In addition, the chamber wants “to bring the cities of Danville and Junction City and Perryville together as one community.”

“For whatever reason, there’s a little bit of a rift out there,” he said. “I don’t know where it came from or why, but we think we’re gonna be better off if we live as one community instead instead of three little sections in this town. Each one of them has a very unique thing to offer for businesses or tourism And we as a chamber need to work with them and help them develop that and just move in harmony.”

Waldon said it can require a lot of work to accomplish unity.

“You have emotions and egos and everything else. And that’s part of the problem that we’ve got to get over — just don’t worry about who gets credit for it, let’s just get it done.”

In order for the chamber to become more relevant and important to this business community,

Waldon said the chamber’s transformation will “be an evolving work, a piece of work, as it should be. We have to change as our community changes. And if we don’t, we’re dead.”