By Jim Newell
The Orion Area Chamber of Commerce hopes that the changes it’s instituting in 2017 will be a boon for its members, helping to further promote local businesses and continue the strong finish of 2016, exemplified in the chamber’s increased activity and double the normal amount of nominations at the annual end-of-the-year Impact Awards ceremony.
The Lake Orion Review sat down with chamber Executive Director Kim Urbanowski to discuss this year’s upcoming events, new and continuing programs and the challenges the chamber will face in 2017.
“We heard feedback about what’s working, what’s not working and listened to what our members had to say and are making some changes,” Urbanowski said.
One of the biggest changes is flip-flopping the Healthy Body, Healthy Minds and Shop Local expos.
The Shop Local Expo is coming up on the thirteenth year and is normally held during parent-teacher conferences at Lake Orion High School at the end of the school year. The expo features 100 local merchants selling their wares, the Sandwich Slam competition, the Pizza Wars competition and the Taste of Orion food samples.
“Instead of May, we’re pushing it off until the first week of October,” Urbanowski said.
The Healthy Body, Healthy Minds Expo, which had been in September, will move to a Saturday afternoon in May instead of a weeknight.
“That springtime time-frame is more conducive to promoting health,” Urbanowski said, hoping the expo serves as a catalyst for people thinking about getting outdoors and increasing their activities.
This year, the Healthy Body, Healthy Minds Expo also will move to Waldon Middle School, where, Urbanowski said, it is better for the layout of the expo and will allow for increased capacity.
Waldon has a cafeteria, gymnasium and auxiliary gym all on the main floor situated close together. “It’s a great facility for this type of event.”
Previous locations have kept the vendors and restaurants spread over two floors. It’s one of the suggestions that the chamber listened to from its members.
“It sort of feels like we’re rebranding (these expos) as a whole new thing,” she said.
The Chamber’s second annual Golf Outing at Paint Creek returns on July 17, and is open to all golfers. “We’re hoping to get even more participation this year,” she said.
The golf outing is a fundraiser supporting chamber programs, as well as a networking opportunity for those interested in the chamber to meet the members.
The outing includes 18-holes of golf, buffet lunch and steak dinner. Cost is $150 per golfer. For those who do not wish to golf, there is a dinner-only option. “Everything we do gets pumped back into our programming,” Ubranowski said. “What’s really unique about our particular chamber is that we advocate for our members.”
Lake Orion Community Schools, Orion Township and the Village of Lake Orion are chamber members.
“Our chamber members have access to people who are making decisions in our town,” Urbanowski said. “That is a very supportive structure and we all work very well together. That’s a huge advantage for our members.”
The chamber also promotes its member through What’s the Biz?, a monthly four-page section in The Lake Orion Review, highlighting recent chamber activities and promoting upcoming events and member businesses.
The Chamber is re-instating a monthly Coffee Networking from 8-9 a.m. the last Tuesday of every month at Crates Coffeehouse on M-24, giving its members and the community a chance to come together and socialize in a relaxed environment.
The chamber also has Thirsty Thursdays the third Thursday of each month at a local establishment, and the monthly chamber breakfast/luncheon. Urbanowski said anyone business, non-profit or individual that wants to learn more about the chamber are encouraged to attend one of the events.
“I’m looking at opening things up a little bit. We’re a charming, close-knit group of people and I want to keep that, but I think we can expand a little bit without losing that,” she said.
“A lot of people are joining the chamber because they want to be a part of the community. That’s a huge thread I see happening over the past few months,” she said. “There’s this thread of community involvement, I love that. We have over 30 non-profits that belong to the chamber.”
Urbanowski said that the level of charitable and community involvement from chamber members is inspiring. “There’s this cycle of people supporting each other and it’s wonderful to see.”
With the positive changes also comes the challenges.
Construction on Baldwin Road was slated to begin this May, and for anyone familiar with the M-24 roadway reconstruction in 2016, those projects can be particularly hard on businesses when motorists do not want to travel those routes.
Orion Twp. Supervisor Chris Barnett has said that some business owners along M-24 had lost as much as 30 percent of their business because of the construction.
Urbanowski said the chamber wants to be proactive this time around and keep businesses affected by the construction better informed and promoted.
“We’re looking into how we as a chamber can help our members survive that, and come out of it in a positive way for our members.”
“There’s a history of this needing to be done. It’s not a new thing. The end result is that it’s going to be beautiful. We’re going to do everything we can during the construction to keep our members informed and promote our businesses.”
At this point, Urbanowski said they chamber is “brainstorming” about what sort of events, activities and information-sharing the chamber can do to help businesses through the construction process on Baldwin, and could include “pop-ups” and special events and promotions.
The chamber has three executive board members who have been through the M-24 construction process. “They’re offering a unique perspective,” Urbanowski said. “For our members, we would like to be the voice of knowledge.”
Chamber Executive Board President Matt Pfeiffer, owner of Northern Flooring and Interiors, said “We want to control the flow of information a little bit better to keep people informed.”
He said efforts to promote businesses could include “pop-ups and email blasts” and special events and promotions.