Chamber receives makeover

This is the year of change for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

With its move into a new space, the organization is harnessing the momentum to create a new brand.

The chamber’s new motto is “Create Great,” which the organization’s president and CEO, Rick Baker, said is a good representation of the city’s business community. 

With that comes a new logo designed by Grand Rapids-based Highland Group.

It’s all about making the chamber’s image clean, simple and modern, Baker said.

About 18 months ago, the chamber began reviewing itself. Chamber staff began speaking with members about their needs and spent some time analyzing every aspect of the organization in an effort to reinvent in the most effective way.

“It’s a very fast-paced business community, and oftentimes, we were running alongside our members in helping address issues for the business community, but we weren’t ahead of them,” Baker said. “What we’re looking to do is propel ourselves ahead of our members.”

The organization’s leadership has been working on its three main focuses going forward: talent development, public policy and advocacy, and business services. 

Baker said “packaging” the chamber’s programs in these three areas of focus gave it the ability to better understand what the organization does and identify gaps. 

Baker said the business services aspect is the biggest change to the organization. With a new team led by Dante Villarreal, services include workshops and seminars geared toward small businesses and entrepreneurs, networking breakfasts and luncheons, a partnership with West Michigan Minority Contractors Association and one-on-one counseling.

In the past, he said the extent of the chamber’s business services was hosting networking events.

The chamber will continue improving upon its public policy and advocacy focus, Baker said. That focus is divided between policy and politics. The team works on policies that benefit business and works to get public officials elected who will support those policies.

“We’re one of the most influential organizations in the state,” Baker said. “As a local chamber, that’s quite a high level of influence. Usually, it’s state associations that are the most influential.”

Baker said he believes part of the reason the new McConnell Ionia parking lot was built near the Grand Rapids Downtown Market was due to the chamber’s work. That’s why more than 600 members filled out the annual chamber survey during the holidays — because they know the chamber has a strong influence, he said.

The talent program is focused on helping the existing workforce gain skills, mostly leadership skills. Many of the leadership programs already existed, but in 2018, the chamber is looking to refresh the content and look of the programs. 

These programmatic changes come with the move into a new 11,000-square-foot space at 250 Monroe Ave. NW on March 1. While the current building, at 111 Pearl St. NW, is comprised of 80 percent office space and 20 percent meeting and community space, the new building will be opposite, Baker said.

About 20 percent of the second floor in the new space will be dedicated to staff offices with a “nomadic” open floor plan in which no one has dedicated space.

This leaves a far greater amount of room for events and meetings, which now will allow the chamber to host events in its own office. The larger meeting room can hold up to 160 people.

The new building also includes a café workspace open to members.

The “modern” brand will be reflected in the new office, which Baker said looks “way different.”

“For people who have been around and engaged with us, they can feel and sense the change,” Baker said. “I think once we’re in the new space, it’ll be like a big jump forward.”

There will be open houses in March for the community to view the new building.

Baker said the Grand Rapids community is a “magnet” for people who want to build a “great community.”

That’s the reason the chamber was created 130 years ago — to create a great community and a unified voice for businesses, he said. 

“We’re still true to that today,” Baker said.

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