The Sun News

Head of Robins chamber looks back, ahead

April Bragg
April Bragg

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: President & CEO, Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce

Q: What do you see as 2016’s highlights at the Robins Regional Chamber?

A: It was a growing year for our organization. We made strides in crucial internal processes and housekeeping matters not visible to the public as well as playing roles in a good many high-visibility community and national matters. All in all, we took advantage of opportunities to step-up our game representing our business community.

Q: First, what were some of the more visible highlights?

A: Our 2016 Robins Regional Christmas parade was obviously very visible with 15,000-plus spectators and over 160 units involved. I believe it was the best ever. We started planning for 2017 the Monday after (that one) to make it even better. There’ll be announcements about it in the summer I think people will be excited about.

Q: Other 2016 highlights? Visible highlights?

A: In the spring, I think late March, the chamber, Industrial Aerospace Committee and a cohort of area officials and community leaders made a trip to Washington, D.C., with the 21st Century Partnership to meet with our legislative delegation and top military officials. We went to demonstrate support of the Robins Air Force Base mission, build relationships and look for opportunities for future growth. Also in 2016, we came out early in support of the E-SPLOST, critical to needs in Houston County, local municipalities and our school system and its role to train the future workforce. On a national matter with a huge local impact, we polled members and took a position in opposition to regulatory changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act. We were one of around 1,000 state and national chambers opposing the regulations and, fortunately, they were stopped for now. It demonstrated our member’s voices getting heard on a national scale.

Q: How about disappointments or challenges?

A: In 2015, we made marked changes in how we communicate with members alongside our overhauled website and refreshed branding look. There was no disappointment there, but there was the challenge in 2016 to communicate to members all the useful new features and ways to get information from us in person as well as from their computers and smartphones. We have so many benefits and information available, the challenge was to let everyone know what was there and how to take advantage of it. We’re still working on that.

Q: What’s the outlook for 2017?

A: First, can I add about the 2016 air show at Robins? A lot of people don’t know our chamber serves as sort of the Grand Central Station for the air show. We’re the fiduciary agent with the Middle Georgia Military Affairs Committee to solicit monetary and other donations to defray air show costs to the base and support as an external community partner. In 2016, the community surpassed our initial fundraising goal by 200 percent and raised over $200,000 in cash with another $100,000 in in-kind donations for things like food, lodging and transportation. It’s been several years since there was a show and the community stepped up big time. It was the first I’d ever seen and it was phenomenal. Seeing what happened behind the scenes made all-the-more a victory in my book. I believe 100,000 attended each of the two days.

Q: Now, how about 2017?

A: Our theme is focusing on value to members. I’ve been here two years now and much of the time has been an introspective look, taking care of internal policies, procedures and tools to see where we were and how to get to where we need to be. I’m excited we’re turning a corner and putting into operation fruit from a lot of that.

Q: Examples?

A: There are the new communication aspects I mentioned and how members can access information, but there are other things like a monthly “coffee with the chairman meetings” with incoming chairman Michael Chalmers of Spherion Staffing. He’ll host a monthly gathering with different groups of our approximately 800 members to talk and listen in to get a better idea of needs and what’s happening on the street. We’re good at hosting events but we’re realizing one-size doesn’t fit all. We’re adapting to provide different opportunities to meet needs of members from aerospace industry professionals to millennials to the old and new businesses on the corner. At the end of the day, business is about relationships and were engaged to effectively grow and enhance relationships.

Q: And of course and bigger and better parade. You mentioned announcements coming — any clues?

A: Top secret! But we’ll announce more in the summer related to increased parade activities and how people can be involved. We’re responding to what people have told us they especially like or don’t like. This year we got the route — and route direction — nailed down and working to our advantage and had a big success with the parade mainstage at Watson Boulevard and Davis Drive. I will say we’re responding to the fact people love and want more entertainment throughout the parade.

Q: How about internal adjustments, were they all done in 2016 or more to come?

A: There are always improvement in the works, but internally we upped our staffing to five in 2016 and look to add someone in 2017. On a personal note, I have to say the Robins Region has truly become home to me in the past two years — I grew up in Dublin and came to Warner Robins after nearly 20 years in Milledgeville. I’m incredibly optimistic about what 2017 holds for the community and our chamber. It’s going to be a banner year.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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