The Bellingen Chamber of Commerce stands squarely on the platform ‘Strong Business- Strong Community’. Its main focus is to sustainably improve the business environment and economic climate of our community and region, a sentiment held dearly by Chamber President Libby Park. “Bellingen’s viability depends on strong business, but not at the expense of our environment or our community values,” says Libby.
Libby possesses strong business credentials, having worked for most of her working life in Human Resources and change management for larger corporations. However, most of us know Libby as the friendly face in the Bellingen Kitchen Shop, a business she has owned for the past 4 years with husband Jamie.
“I know first hand the pitfalls of small business ownership. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Purchasing the Kitchen Shop was quite a mad moment, but one of the best mad moments that we’ve had because it has made us part of this community,” says Libby.
It is giving back to this community and realising that she could make a worthwhile contribution to local business that drove Libby to join the Bellingen Chamber of Commerce three years ago. These days the Chamber has a cohesive, stable and committed committee drawn from a cross section of our local business community. And they mean business!
Libby how relevant is a Chamber of Commerce in the current business and political climate?
I believe it is extremely relevant. Being a member of the Chamber gives business owners the opportunity to work in collaboration with other businesses. These collaborations allow for more influence over political decision making locally and decisions, which will impact on local business generally. As we attract more members the Chamber can gather everyone’s input and understand the main issues that are affecting local business. The Chamber is able to advocate and lobby on behalf of the business community- I think this is one of the most critical things that we can do. It is a tough environment at the moment for business. If we can’t work together we will be the poorer for it.
Do you believe the Chamber is also relevant to the smaller cottage or artistic industries in Bellingen?
Absolutely. Networking is so important for smaller business owners working from home, who may not have ready access to other business people. Being a member of the Chamber allows smaller business owners to share their ideas and cross-pollinate. It fills that gap.
So how would you summarise the major benefits to your members?
We support local business through services, networking events and education sessions. As described, we advocate on behalf of our members and are able to disseminate vital information, including funding opportunities to our members via our meetings, website and social media channels. We also partner with other business groups, including the Bellingen Co-Working Group, providing sponsorship and support for their events. Local initiatives are able use the Chamber to auspice their activities, providing another level of credibility, ethical oversight and support.
There are also greater opportunities for our members through the renewal of the NSW Business Chamber. The Bellingen Chamber of Commerce and the NSW Chamber aren’t affiliated, but the latter do provide us with advice and support without having any direct influence over our decision- making. Anyone who is a member of the Bellingen Chamber can choose to access a whole range of services through the NSW Chamber, including unlimited calls to a business hotline, 3 calls a year to a their HR advice line, free business webinars and access to their legal support services. This means even greater support for our small business community.
Can the Chamber provide support to those thinking about starting up a new Bellingen-based business?
The ‘just dive in approach’ for new businesses can be fraught. The Chamber can help with advice and crucial information for those thinking about starting a business. Market research is so important at the outset and our team of members can provide new members with a wealth of knowledge based on their own experiences. There is also the opportunity for business mentoring- teaming members up for greater support.
How would you describe the relationship between the Bellingen Chamber of Commerce and the Bellingen Shire Council?
It’s a close relationship and we are working to make it even closer. It is crucial that the Chamber can advocate on behalf of its members. We have regular meetings with the Council executive team, the Mayor and the Dorrigo and Urunga Chambers of Commerce.
The Council’s Economic and Business Development Manager Michael Grieve attends many of our Chamber meetings. He keeps us updated about Council plans for development in our region. This also allows the Chamber to voice an opinion on development in the region, based on our members’ views.
What are the Chamber’s plans going forward?
We have been working hard for the past few months developing our strategic plan for the next 3 years. Our board have identified our key focus areas and are now working on finalising our action plans. We are exploring the employment of a paid executive officer. This position will be advertised soon. This really is an essential next step to meeting our goals, through greater networking opportunities and increasing our reach in the community. Our plan is that this role will be self-sustaining economically.
We already have a full calendar of networking events planned for 2020 and everyone is welcome. Our events for 2019 were fun and informative. Just to give a taste of what to expect- our 2019 Israeli Breakfast at the Corner Store brought together business owners, leaders of the Arts community and Council executives for an in depth briefing from members of the Bellingen Memorial Hall upgrade committee. Those present had the opportunity to ask questions and fully grasp the future plans for the Mem Hall upgrade. The event was a resounding success and demonstrated how members of the Chamber are kept fully apprised of information that may affect their business planning into the future.
Don’t worry if you missed this one. Next year we have so much more in store.