COOKEVILLE – A new – and national – business chamber is up and running in the greater Cookeville area, and the leaders behind the group are hoping to have a more regional reach.
That’s just one of the differences the National Business Chamber of the Upper Cumberland hopes to offer its member businesses. The organization, one of five such chapters across the country so far and the first in Tennessee, is a cooperative whose leaders are also co-owners in the for-profit organization, says Jim Vesper, managing partner.
The group opened an office on Cookeville’s WestSide this summer and already boasts 10 directors and roughly 35 members. That’s all happened without a public grand opening thus far, although Vesper hopes to hold one before the end of this year.
With a new organization often comes a lot of questions, but Vesper says the primary focus will be building up small businesses and helping them operate much more efficiently – and profitably.
“We welcome the scrutiny that comes with anything new, to show the value that we can bring to the table,” he said. “We have experience running small businesses in this community and hope to have honest insight into what our business community needs.”
While the National Business Chamber will offer traditional chamber member benefits like networking, professional development and publicity, it largely centers around a customer loyalty program that’s powered by the MyChoice network, of which Vesper is the franchise owner in the UC. Vesper says they won’t compete with local chambers of commerce but will offer a more wide, regional reach with a bottom line of business-building and above cost saving.
“We hope to certainly complement anything that the existing business chambers in our region are doing,” he added. “We’re a regional chamber and will be supporting businesses in all 14 UC counties, so we have both a larger focus, but on the street level, we’re looking at the bottom line – business-building and cost savings that we can provide to those who would be affiliated with our chamber.”
That’s a value that both directors Larry Brown, a business owner for 30 years in Cookeville, and Sally Askew, who has experience with non-profits and higher education, saw immediately, and continue to see anytime they approach another business leader in the community about their concept.
“I saw a need for something like this for smaller businesses, because they’re often left out of the loop,” Askew said. “We want to make sure small businesses get what they need to sustain themselves, so that they’re not just here for a year and gone. We want them to last and prosper. To help grow the region.”
“It’s a great opportunity for small business to get together and work with each other,” Brown added. “If you have a small business and you help another small business, it just grows. It’s a domino effect.”
A public open house is in the works for the new chamber, and Vesper says that will likely take place in November. The group isn’t holding a membership drive, per se, but is more focused in early stages on becoming more well known.
“We’re hopeful that a large cross-section of our business community will gravitate toward us,” Vesper said. “We hope to make ourselves a well known commodity by the time our first year of business is over.”