(Staff photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
(Staff photo by Brett Eppley/beppley@madisoncourier.com)
A year after being named executive director of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, Lindsay Bloos is upbeat about the organization’s future.

“I was definitely not expecting to take it on,” Bloos said Friday, just a week after her one-year anniversary as head of the Chamber.

Former executive director Trevor Crafton resigned on Jan. 22, 2015, after three years. Bloos, who had worked at the Chamber since 2013 as finance and marketing director was chosen as his replacement.

“The good thing is I’d already developed a lot of relationships,” she said of her foundation with the organization. And though she said she’s “not quite the salesperson” Crafton was she’s happy with her first year in charge.

“I think that I definitely met most of my goals for 2016, and I think that I’m definitely still up for the challenge of being the chamber director,” she said.

At the end of 2015, the Chamber reported 396 members, by June 2016 membership reached a peak of 418 but was down to 386 by the end of December. This month, Bloos said the Chamber has already gained four new members bringing the total to 390.

All the while – losing a few and gaining a few – Bloos said an 89 percent retention rate has been maintained and hovering around 400 members has been fairly typical of the past several years.

The national chamber member retention, Bloos said, averages 85 percent.

Another of Bloos’ goals for the chamber, financial security, is a marked success after a “bit of a downturn” several years ago.

In 2016, Bloos said, a net income was large enough so that emptied reserves can now be replaced. The purchase of more than $130,000 in Good Cents certificates also made for one of the program’s best years yet.

On a basic level, she said members realize the value of the Chamber, including the discounts, networking opportunities and education they offer.

“But it goes beyond that because the Chamber’s involved in a lot of the things going on in the community and trying to build the community up. Our members see the work that we’re doing and they see the value in contributing and being a part of the organization,” she said.

“Our organization is our members. It’s a group of businesses that got together and said we want to work together for the betterment of this community and to provide a better economic environment. That’s why we exist in the first place and our members still see that.”

A new strategic plan for the Chamber will continue to improve that relationship with members to serve their needs.

Bloos said the first quarter of this year will see “round table” discussions and possible surveys with members and non-members in their industry sectors to talk about the issues important to them. This engagement will also take a closer look at services offered and how they can be more tailored to small businesses versus large manufacturers.

From there, adjustments will be made, Bloos said.

“That’s what it’s all about. When you’re working for a nonprofit organization and you’re trying to be a benefit to the community, you have to always be ready to adjust and change to current trends. We always have to be looking at the horizon to see what’s coming up,” she said.

“It’s tough in a leadership position, and it has been a bit of a shift in how I look at things now from a higher level rather than getting in the weeds with the details.

“Since I’m a detail person it’s been a bit of an adjustment, but I also find it really exciting.”

Bloos said the decision to engage with members about what they wanted largely stemmed from her education with the Hoosier Chamber Academy last year and her recent visit to the Institute for Organization Management, a program by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Bloos said she wasn’t aware of all the Chamber was involved in when she went for the first job interview four years ago.

“It’s hard to kind of simplify it and break it down into things that people can see.”

To combat the issue, events such as a “Membership 101” public meeting this month and a newly invigorated ambassadors program will seek to spread the word.

Over time, she said, generations have gone from seeking out the Chamber for a variety of information and services to the perception of a “pay-to-play,” exclusive club. And while they are a membership organization, the Chamber is always willing to offer advice and connections to new businesses or individuals in the area.

“I think we are an underutilized resource. I kind of think we’re the best kept secret in the area.”

The Chamber’s focus on economic growth, quality of life initiatives and marketing make up the rest of the strategic plan. And while collaboration with other organizations has always been important to the Chamber, Bloos said she would like to highlight those efforts more.

Weekly meetings with leaders from the Main Street Program, Envision Jefferson County, Visit Madison, the Madison Area Arts Alliance or city government are typical.

“Some people may not realize that the Chamber is involved in some of those things,” she said, making note of the America’s Best Communities competition or a possible upcoming designation as one of the state’s “Stellar” communities.

“Really, any organization that’s advancing the economic growth in Madison – we want to be at the table for that.

“We want everyone in our community – and even outside of our community – we want everybody to understand that we do work together,” she said.

As a Madison transplant – Bloos has lived in Madison for 10 years – she said the amount of support she has received has made transitions like those in the past year especially, easier.

And, hopefully, that can only continue to make things better for all involved.

“Being in a leadership position in something like our Chamber of Commerce can be a really daunting thing if you don’t have support.

“It makes me love my job.”