Lawrence County Chamber Deals with Digital Age
NEW CASTLE, Pa. – The organization now known as the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce is in a rebuilding period, a process its CEO says in part involves determining what a chamber needs to be in the age of the smartphone.
“The big question,” Alex McCoy ponders, “is how do we create value for our membership in an age where everything that the chamber was known for in the 1950s can be done by asking Siri instead?”
McCoy took over as the chamber’s CEO just over a year ago, joining the organization June 6 – or “D-Day in more ways than one,” jokes Linda Nitch, the chamber’s director of economic business development.
“Yeah, storming the beaches of Neshannock Creek,” responds McCoy, who held similar posts in Georgia, Florida and Maryland. He succeeded Bob McCracken, the chamber’s executive director for 19 years.
The past few years have been a time of transition for the former Greater New Castle Area Chamber of Commerce. In January 2017, the New Castle chamber merged with Lawrence County Economic Development Corp., where Nitch served as executive director, to form the Lawrence County Regional Chamber. The economic development corporation remains an independently incorporated 501(c)3.
“There have been the expected bumps and bruises, but on the whole, things are definitely moving in the right direction,” McCoy says.
“When you have two different organizations merge, with two different cultures, there’s bound to be some clashing that would be created, especially when ou are bringing in new leadership from outside the community that has different ideas about how things work.”
The transition has been “pretty seamless,” and McCoy is “knowledgeable and experienced,” Nitch says.
“We haven’t had to do much in the way of advice as to how economic development is done here in Pennsylvania because he has the experience from elsewhere,” she continues. “It’s my relationships that work very well. I’ve got the Pennsylvania relationships both at the state level as well as our regional partners.”
At the end of 2017, the two organizations moved their offices into a building on W. Washington Street, unifying them, as well as the Lawrence County Chamber Foundation, at one site.
Before the merger, the chamber didn’t have a dedicated economic development division, and would form task forces to address specific issues and initiatives, McCoy says. The chamber focused on doing special events for members, operated “a little bit like a welcome center” by distributing maps and brochures, and provided staff for other organizations such as the Downtown Business Association.
Its “program of work” for 2018 through 2021 has three critical goals: advancing the area’s economy, developing Forward Lawrence – a single, actionable countywide vision with community partners that reduces duplicative efforts – and developing leaders and countywide cooperation. Work is distributed among economic development, community development and special events divisions.
With Nitch and the two other staff members of the former LCEDC, the chamber’s economic development staff is “exceptionally strong,” McCoy continues. Nitch “believes greatly in professional development,” so the two employees are both certified economic developers and economic development finance professionals.
To grow its “community development side of the house” the chamber hired a marketing and events specialist about three months ago, he adds.
“Obviously that human connection still matters, giving folks that networking opportunity where they can market themselves and their businesses to one another is still incredibly important,” McCoy says.
With its new space, the chamber offers satellite offices for Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center and the Youngstown State University Score chapter.
The chamber is working on restarting Leadership Lawrence, which McCoy said he hopes will launch this fall.
Other projects in the works include collaborations with regional chambers, such as the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
Most recently, the Lawrence chamber helped with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s efforts to compile employment opportunities for workers affected by downsizing at the General Motors Lordstown Complex.
Pictured: Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce CEO Alex McCoy speaks at the organization’s annual meeting in March.
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