New executive director joins Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 26, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Bringing businesses together to save money and make money is one of the goals of the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce. The organization acts as a networking tool to connect companies in the community. It also provides access to other resources and educational opportunities that may prove beneficial.

And now the chamber is being guided along by a new executive director. Nancy Smith took up the role recently after several interviews with board President Peter Shillingford and board Vice-President and Treasurer Mike Van Buren. Prior to running the chamber, she had been retired due to health reasons after a career in senior management positions at international corporations and as the director of a nonprofit.

Smith has a master’s degree in organizational communication and describes herself as having strengths in two major areas: communication and process management.

“I managed highly successful sales teams and trained over 350 employees on problem solving and quality improvement processes, which led to my organization winning the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award,” she said in an email. “I am passionate about conducting business in a way that always puts the customer — or in the case of the chamber, its members — first.”

The Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce primarily draws members from its namesake cities, but it also has members from other cities, as well. They see benefits in the form of promotion among the 300 members.

“Our goal is to be a high-performing chamber that promotes, educates and influences member businesses with the intent of creating an environment in which all businesses can prosper, new business leaders can emerge, and we can contribute to the overall improved economic status of the community,” Smith said.

“The potential of the chamber’s contribution to businesses is unlimited,” she said. “The first thing I want to accomplish is to make all businesses aware that the chamber exists to help them.  That requires increasing the amount of communication between the chamber and all organizations in this geography. Our growth and the ability to meet our goals require the active participation of the existing members.   

“We are equally involved in adding new members to our roster,” she said. “My plan is to offer more programs that will spark member participation and to add more events to our monthly calendar that will produce consistent attendance. My hope is that we can generate synergy among our members that will move this chamber to the list of top performing chambers in Michigan.”  

Networking opportunities will remain one of the key benefits of chamber membership, she said, sharing information with potential customers, asking for referrals and gathering intel on the business climate in the area. Some companies host events at their stores or offices to display their products and facilities to other members.

The chamber also hosts coffee chats and referral sharing meetings several times a month, annual golf outings and auction events, and twice-weekly email blasts sent to nearly 400 addresses with the names and contact information of new members and recognition for those who continue to support the chamber. The chamber helps promote programs and pricing by its members, and also is a way to post job openings as businesses seek much-needed employees.

To top it all off, the chamber helps businesses navigate opportunities available through government programs and other forms of relief during the trying times of a global pandemic.

“We know the pandemic created the incredible hardships of company shutdowns and employee furloughs. Small businesses were most severely impacted. Companies modified their business models to continue selling their services and employed unique marketing strategies to share their message with their customers. With the easing of some restrictions, I believe we are witnessing the revitalization of our economy and the return to some degree of what we used to call normal,” Smith said.

“Surprisingly, the greatest challenge facing businesses today is the recruiting of new employees. There are far more job openings than there are people to fill them,” she said. “This isn’t simply a local problem. If you listen to any news broadcast, local or national, you will hear the same concern repeated daily. We need to encourage our workers to consider the advantages accrued through long-term employment versus short-term compensation.”

On that note, Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein said she looks forward to working with the chamber on behalf of her city’s business community.

“We have a variety of types of businesses in the city, each with their own unique style, but the one common challenge has been finding employees,” Grafstein said in an email. “From counter help at a bakery to entry-level labor with room for development to experienced skilled workers, businesses are having a tough time recruiting and retaining responsible employees.

“I have spoken to local businesses that hosted in-person job fairs, but they resulted in very few applicants showing up,” she said. “I reached out to the county and to Nancy Smith from the chamber, and we are bouncing around ideas on how we can work together to safely host a job fair in the city.”