HUNTINGTON — From growth and diversity to volunteerism and expanding its voice beyond Cabell and Wayne counties, the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce enters 2020 with new officers and many goals.
In December, the chamber announced that Toney Stroud, an attorney with Encova Insurance (formerly BrickStreet Insurance), will serve as chair of the chamber’s board in 2020 and Todd Campbell, president of St. Mary’s Medical Center, will serve as vice chair.
“As a person who grew up in the Huntington area, it’s an honor to serve in this capacity,” said Stroud. “Our chamber has a sterling reputation throughout West Virginia, and I look forward to seeing us grow and continue our good work this year.”
Stroud replaces Rob Sellards, partner with Bailes, Craig, Yon & Sellards, PLLC, who will now serve as the chair of the chamber’s Political Action Committee, HuntPAC.
“We know that 2020 will be a contentious political year in West Virginia, but we also recognize that it’s important that HuntPAC supports those candidates that will be good advocates for our business community and the economy here at home,” Sellards said. “As to serving as the chamber’s chair for the past two years, I want to recognize our continued good work representing the more than 550 businesses from Cabell and Wayne counties that constitute our membership. While there will always be more work to be done, I am confident that our chamber has the right leadership in place to represent our membership and meet the challenges that 2020 will bring.”
Barry Burgess, certified public accountant and managing partner with Somerville & Company PLLC, will continue to serve as the chamber’s treasurer.
Chamber President and CEO Bill Bissett and Stroud sat down with The Herald-Dispatch this past week to discuss the organization’s past accomplishments and vision, goals and plans for 2020.
“In many ways to maintain what we are accomplishing, I think we need to stay engaged not only in Cabell and Wayne counties, but also in Charleston at the state Capitol and in D.C. with our delegation there,” Bissett said. “Carrying our voice beyond the borders of the two counties has always got to be a concern. Just telling our story in these two counties will not accomplish what we need to get done.”
Part of what allows the chamber to have a greater impact beyond Cabell and Wayne counties is its strong relationships with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, statewide trade associations and other regional and local chambers.
“This network helps us find additional allies for our advocacy efforts and provides our chamber with a ready network of ideas to find solutions here in the Huntington region,” Bissett added.
Bissett said the chamber continues to work for greater diversity in its membership and throughout the Huntington region.
“We need to expand our diversity, not just as a chamber, which has been a challenge, but also as a region,” Bissett said. “There is strength in diversity and overcoming the perception that Appalachia is not a welcoming place or a place where people are not treated well is something we all need to be working towards.”
Bissett and Stroud said the chamber supports Huntington Mayor Steve Williams’ “Open To All” campaign.
“We also want to pursue new members, which gives us a larger portion of employers and allows to more accurately represent businesses here at home,” Stroud said.
While both Stroud and Bissett want the chamber to grow, they said the goal is not just growth for growth’s sake.
“A chamber is something I think 30 years ago that if you were a business you became a chamber member,” Stroud said. “I think it has evolved into now that chamber members expect a return on investment in their membership. We want to continue to show our worth and value to them and advocate for them on a local, state and federal level. I think we are able to give them that voice and show them that return on investment they get by being with this chamber.”
“In the past, it was almost a foregone conclusion that a business would join a chamber as both a sign of legitimacy and a member of the larger business community,” Bissett said. “Today, as Toney said, a chamber member expects a good return on investment on its membership, and we work hard to provide that return. While that can be a challenge with more than 550 businesses and thousands of people connected to our chamber, we do our best to serve everyone and provide a service that many of our members don’t have within their organization. With advocacy, outreach and service, we want our members to feel connected to our chamber in a positive way.”
Bissett and Stroud also spoke about the importance of volunteerism.
“I am very fortunate that I work for an employer who values their associates and being involved in their communities,” Stroud said. “We very much encourage that and recognize the importance of our associates being out in the community, especially with organizations like the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce that are so important to the state and this entire region.”
“We’re fortunate have an active executive committee and a board that are engaged and supportive,” Bissett said.
He said many who serve the chamber in a volunteer capacity have day jobs and other obligations.
“We need these business leaders not just to write checks to keep the chamber financially viable, but also give their time and input to make certain that we’re headed in the right direction,” Bissett said. “As a voice for business, we can’t provide the right message unless we have good input from our business community, and that’s what these two groups give us, combined with feedback from our membership.”
Bissett said that since he has been with the chamber for a little more than three years, it has always been his goal to maintain the chamber’s great reputation.
“It is so important to maintain the reputation of a chamber that has been around 128 years,” he said. “A lot of work has been done by a lot of people and we are the successors of that, which is something we take very seriously.”
Bissett says there is more work to be done.
“As we learned at a recent meeting with the head of Commerce Lexington, the chamber of Lexington, Kentucky, he said that we’ll ‘never have enough funds or enough staff to accomplish all that we need to do, but that’s the challenge of running a chamber.’ Focusing on what we can accomplish with the resources at hand is an important indication of our success. In many cases, we set our priorities on projects and issues that, if the chamber does not take a leadership role, then nothing is likely to happen,” he said.