Daily News staff writer
Posted Dec 7, 2018 at 7:27 PM
Updated Dec 7, 2018 at 7:27 PM
NEWPORT — In 2020, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce will celebrate its centennial. The year will also mark a tipping point in the composition of the nation’s workforce. Half of the baby boomers will have retired by that point, and 50 percent of the workforce will be made up of millennials.
Given those factors and others, including the chamber’s impending move into the technology incubator and co-work space under development at the former Sheffield Elementary School on Broadway, it is time for the chamber to chart its course for the next 100 years, said its executive director, Erin Donovan-Boyle.
The chamber is in the process of compiling a five-year strategic plan and mulling rebranding itself.
“Does anybody know all of the things that the chamber does?” Donovan-Boyle said at a chamber event Thursday night at Saltwater restaurant in the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina. “How do we get that information out there? How do we communicate it? We’re not doing it well enough because people don’t know.”
Chamber officials have been meeting with current and former members and the community at large to get a better sense of how the chamber needs to articulate what it does.
“The name came up, especially with young professionals and the millennial generation,” she said. “The name ‘chamber of commerce’ came up as a conversation piece. Some thought it meant exactly what it did. ... Some did not know what it meant. Some thought it meant strictly business after-hours events. Some thought it was old, stuffy people.”
The organization does fulfill the traditional roles of a chamber of commerce, including bringing businesses together, promoting networking and advocating for the small-business community at the state and federal level, Donovan-Boyle said.
This year, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce launched a regional economic development division focused on gathering data about the needs of individual businesses to put together a five-year strategic plan for regional economic development.
The chamber anticipates moving from its offices at 35 Valley Road to the technology incubator on Broadway, called Innovate Newport, sometime from mid-February to March 1. The facility is intended to attract entrepreneurs, innovators and small businesses in the defense sector and allied industries, such as underwater technologies and cybersecurity. The project is a collaboration between the city, Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Fund of Rhode Island.
“We partner in these types of programs and initiatives,” Donovan-Boyle said. “But we’re also the backup operational force for the functionality of this building. This is a significant switch and re-positioning of the chamber.”
The chamber’s shifting roles, coupled with its 100th anniversary, made this a natural time to reflect.
“What would you like the next 100 years to look like for the chamber?” Donovan-Boyle said. “What sort of brand, what sort of name speaks that to you? Why are you a member? Does it make sense to keep the Chamber of Commerce [name] because it’s world-renowned? That’s what it is.”
Among the six choices floated at the Emerging Leaders of Newport County event Thursday were: Greater Newport County Chamber, Connect Greater Newport and the Chamber. Another option is keeping its current name and just creating a new logo. Attendees could leave feedback about each name scrawled on large pieces of paper on tables spread around the bar.
Regardless of which direction the membership takes it, the organization will always do business as the Chamber of Commerce, Donovan-Boyle said.
All members will have an opportunity to weigh in, with the final results vetted at a board retreat in January and at the organization’s annual meeting that month, she added.