Jim Fram on Making Small Businesses Last a Long Time

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jul. 8, 2013 12:00 am  

Jim Fram

Jim Fram has returned to his home state to lead the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, which, at 116 years old, is one of Arkansas’ oldest businesses.

A native of Fort Smith, Fram is a 1981 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has been certified as an economic developer and a fellow member by the International Economic Development Council and as a chamber executive by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives organization.

Most recently, he was senior vice president for economic development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber. He has served in CEO or senior management roles for chambers of commerce and economic development organizations in Arkansas, Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

This week Arkansas Business takes a look at small and family-owned businesses. How are the needs and interests of small businesses different from large businesses and how does the chamber balance those differences?

Small and large businesses encounter most of the same issues. More often than not, the small business will have more challenges, mainly because of limited resources. Hopefully, a significant number of small businesses aspire to become large businesses, unless the company may offer a product or service to a local or regionally defined area. Small businesses make up 88 percent of our membership, so most of our programs and services are geared toward those businesses. However, we do provide more targeted programs and services for our larger members as well.

How has chamber work changed during the last 20 years? What new services have members come to expect? What traditional roles have faded away?

As in many other industries, titles have changed. Someone who is now the CEO once was a called a “secretary,” then a “manager,” then a “director,” then “executive” and so on. But if you look closely, the CEOs have been doing the same job all along, helping businesses succeed. Each chamber has evolved at the pace of its community. Sending greeting cards and producing local parades and festivals are a thing of the past for most chambers. Now chambers have become, first and foremost, advocates for their business community. I believe, across the country, chambers have become more involved in monitoring public policy at all levels, local, state and federal. While we all recognize a need for limited regulation, some regulation can cause a reduction of capital investment by a business, which can ultimately shrink the tax base, affect the creation of new jobs and possibly cause the elimination of existing jobs.

What issues are unique to a resort city? What issues are universal?

Since we depend so heavily on our visitor industry, there is a large swing in traffic for our businesses. Because of the number of conventions and conferences we host, we also enjoy being exposed to a large and diverse audience of people who have the means to be investors in our community. We strive to attract investment, jobs and the workforce to fill those jobs. We also face the same limited resources as other Arkansas communities in being able to market, attract and incentivize new capital investment and job creation projects.

Why should small businesses join their local chambers of commerce? What’s in it for them?

Most small businesses don’t have a full-time lobbyist or a full-time representative devoted to issues of education, workforce, financing or the attraction of more customers to the region. We provide that in several forms where, in a combined effort, we produce results on behalf of more than 1,000 companies in the Hot Springs region, most of which are small businesses. We provide representation in a number of areas that protects and enhances their ability to run their businesses. That helps them be more profitable and able to plan new investment and to create and retain more jobs.



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