Texas Consultant Pumps Up Chamber Membership in Arkansas

by James Gordon  on Monday, Aug. 28, 2006 12:00 am  

• Click here for page 1 of the state's chambers of commerce.

• Click here for page 2 of the state's chambers of commerce.

• Click here for page 3 of the state's chambers of commerce.

While the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce continued to dominate, chambers in Jonesboro, Fort Smith, Springdale and Paragould all enjoyed significant membership influxes that bumped them to higher spots on Arkansas Business' second list of the state's largest chambers of commerce.

The list is ranked by each chamber's number of members, which does not include the total number of representatives of each chamber member. The information was collected directly from the chambers and was not independently verified.

The four chambers that experienced the biggest spikes in membership this year all share a single factor: They all hired Jimmy Cusano.

Cusano is the vice president of Your Chamber Connection, a Fort Worth, Texas, company that helps chambers across the country host focused, 2.5-day membership drives. A chamber that hires Cusano's company provides volunteers who bring their personal Rolodexes of contacts for potential new members. Cusano provides the drive's organizational structure and a mix of high-intensity motivation and education about the vital community role filled by local chambers. One volunteer dubbed it "entertrainment."

Whatever you call what Cusano does, Tom Manskey, president of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it is hard to reproduce. While he was still head of the chamber in Rockwall, Texas, Manskey hosted his own Your Chamber Connection-style membership drive and recruited 68 new members. The following year, he hired Cusano and got 212 new members.

It was through Manskey that Cusano was introduced to Arkansas. Manskey brought in Cusano for a membership drive in Fort Smith in 2004, and in three days the chamber had 301 new members and had raised more than $77,000. Last February, Fort Smith hosted another chamber drive and got another 236 new members and raised $62,000. Since last year, Fort Smith has ascended from fourth to third on Arkansas Business' list.

Your Chamber Connection has helped the chambers in Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Paragould, Russellville and Springdale each gain at least 25 percent more new members.

The Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce experienced the biggest spike in membership, 33 percent or 262 new members, after its drive in March. Director Sue McGowan said 131 volunteers turned out for the event, none of whom received financial incentives or prizes.

Positive Trends

Danny Games, project manager of business recruitment for Entergy's Teamwork Arkansas, pointed out two trends that have each had a positive impact at the local level over the past year: Teamwork's own Select Site program, which it rolled out last fall, and increased regionalism.

After a site has satisfied Teamwork's 50-point criteria, Teamwork certifies the site and agrees to promote it in an attempt to recruit new business to the state. Teamwork currently has 14 communities and 18 sites enrolled in the Select Site program.

Games said the key benefits to the Select Site program are an ability to quickly provide consultants with all of the information they request and to help eliminate disparities between sites.

Approaching business recruitment from a regional rather than an exclusively local perspective is also taking hold, according to Games.

"It is really encouraging to see these smaller communities coming together, whereas 10 years ago you would have said it'll never happen; the only time they got together is for Friday night football and it only got worse from there," Games said. But now "they are starting to pull their dollars together and starting to push planning, transportation and marketing initiatives that I think are going to serve them."



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