By Linda Dillman
From humble beginnings when it was reorganized 36 years ago by a handful of civic-minded citizens, the Canal Winchester Chamber of Commerce of today is an organization of over 175 members with businesses spanning the city.
Spearheading the organization is Denise Mathias, who joined the chamber in 2016 and was selected as chairman in 2017. The chamber is comprised of businesses, individuals and organizations dedicated to the promotion of business and the community. Through partnerships with local businesses, government and leaders, members advocate for a prosperous business community.
“The chamber, working diligently over the years, promoting a strong and solid business environment achieved a fifth place listing in Columbus Business First’s publication of growing chambers,” said Mathias. “We pride ourselves in developing close community ties with residents, city officials, and our school district.”
Redefining its purpose
According to Mathias, in 2017, chamber executives worked together to redefine the organization’s purpose to focus on increasing business acumen and creating a networking and partnership community.
“We eliminated workforce development given the creation of the Fairfield 33 corridor initiative and the Canal Winchester High School Work Based Learning Program,” said Mathias. “We re-evaluated our events and either re-tooled them to include a wider audience or made tweaks to increase the value. The business community drastically changed again in March 2020. While everyone quickly adapted to an online meeting world, ‘Zoom-fatigue’ quickly set in and in-person networking essentially came to a standstill.”
Membership manager Lori Williamson identified a need for social media promotions for business members, which quickly grew in popularity with current and new members and remains one of the chamber’s most popular benefits.
Mathias said other chambers in the area took notice and quickly followed suit.
“And now in mid-2021, we are rapidly evolving again,” Mathias said. “The city of Canal Winchester has experienced quick and steady commercial growth, given the central Ohio attractiveness to online retailers. For our core businesses, this is a challenging time with staffing shortages, supply chain issues and another wave of COVID. We have reached out to the city of Canal Winchester and our schools to partnership on creative solutions.”
The chamber is focusing on promoting businesses on social media, both individually and in related segments. They also work on a graphic that lists local healthcare options in the city that can be accessed and shared when residents are looking for referrals in community groups.
Mathias said the chamber is also looking at volunteering in businesses in the service industry to help them catch up with stocking materials and preparing for high volume hours.
“Our next large event for members will be the annual awards dinner, Denim and Diamonds, in February 2022,” said Mathias. “All are welcome to attend and be a part of celebrating businesses in Canal Winchester.”
Be kind on social media
While the chamber promotes Canal Winchester area business, Mathias said she is disheartened to see comments from the public on social media blasting the businesses.
“I don’t really believe it’s the look we want for our community,” said Mathias. “Yes, waits are long, hours are condensed and lobbies are closed. We have a chicken wing and mozzarella stick shortage. But we shouldn’t be unkind or short with the workers who showed up and are trying to serve us. We want to be positive and welcoming to all who invest here. We are launching a #bekind social event for businesses in our community. We’ve planned some fun giveaways for sharing positive reviews and act of kindness.”
The chamber also sponsors community-wide events, such as the RunningScared5k on Oct. 30, held in partnership with Nationwide Childrens Hospital. The race includes a one mile or 5K run and participants are invited to trade their usual running gear for a Halloween costume.
Canal Winchester High School is hosting a Business Luncheon on Sept. 15. Mathias said the chamber is looking forward to hearing board Director Kristin Ankrom share updates with the area business community.
Chamber Talks! were launched earlier this year by Treasurer Leslie Thornton and feature advice on short videos on the chamber’s YouTube channel.
To join the Canal Winchester Chamber of Commerce, fill out an application, which is available at www.canalwinchester.com or by calling 614-837-1556. Membership includes a quarterly email opportunity, sponsorships at local events and healthcare options.
Despite the challenges of a world working its way through a pandemic, the chamber has welcomed 23 new members in 2021. Mathias has asked the city to partner with them on an upcoming economic development plan.
“I think we have several board members and local business owners who can provide meaningful insight into this project,” Mathias said.