Chamber evens playing field

With a mission to reach out to small, minority and women-owned businesses, one local organization helps others as the economy toughens and more companies close.

Members of the local Capital City Chamber of Commerce met with local business owners at their monthly networking after-hours event Monday. With nearly 40 attendees, the event was part of a series of affairs the association has planned this year to retain membership as dues may be a hindrance for some.

One of the two chambers of commerce in Leon county, the Capital City Chamber of Commerce is a predominantly minority organization with over 170 members.

Eugene Telfair, president of the Florida A&M University Federal Credit Union, has been a member of the Chamber since 1999.  Despite the tough economic crisis, Telfair said he still sees the benefit of becoming a member of the chamber.

“A lot of the chamber of commerce members are people that (have accounts with FAMU FCU),” Telfair said.  “It’s certainly a great trade-off because we understand their need.”
However, Telfair sees a possible change in the near future in the number of new and returning members.

“The present state of the economy has affected everyone,” he said.  “A lot of the chamber members right now, I’m sure they’re looking at their bottom line in terms of whether or not they want to continue paying membership dues.”

Nat Wesley, a former allied health professor at FAMU and president of NRW and Associates, a home printing company, understands where the economic crisis will hit the chamber hardest: growth.

“Any growth that it [Capital City Chamber] may have been anticipated is certainly going to be stymied,” Wesley said.  “I think those who are there are going to stay there because it’s important but I think it’s [the economy] going to really put a damper on growth.”

Windell Paige, who was elected chamber president in January, has pledged to help businesses enhance their visibility.  Paige is also the CEO of W.P. and Associates, a business-consulting firm in Tallahassee.

One way the Chamber has attempted to enhance visibility for members is by continuing their business partnership with the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce & Industry, according to Arturo Lugisse, the former treasurer of the St. Maarten chamber and the executive director and founder of the Tallahassee – St. Maarten Foundation.

Lugisse said he came to the networking after-hours event in order to promote the relationship between businesses in Tallahassee and those in St. Maarten.

“It’s been 10 years since we signed a partnership agreement with the government of Tallahassee,” he said.

Lugisse is planning to take a delegation of chamber members to St. Maarten to continue this international joint venture and further long term partnerships.

“I thought this would be a great networking opportunity to get more people interested in the trip,” Lugisse said. “Presently, one of the things we are looking at is the stimulus plan that America has; trying to attract local, regional, and international business to make a difference when it comes to businesses in Tallahassee, and Tallahassee as a stepping stone to the rest of America.”

Premier Bank, located on Thomasville Road, hosted the event. The bank has collaborated with the Capital City Chamber of Commerce to build business relationships with local entrepreneurs.