ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As the new year unfolds, members of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce Board begin a year’s journey and have taken the first step by compiling goals for 2004.
During the annual Chamber board retreat this month, board members established a list of 10 goals-some carry over from last year, while others are new and still on the drawing board.
“The purpose of the Chamber is to promote Hillsboro, and keep Hillsboro and the business community strong and knowledgeable about what’s going on with city government and even state government,” said Jared Jost, the new chamber president.
Owner of Hillsboro Memorial Chapel, Jost has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce since 2001. At the beginning of the year, he took over presidential duties from past president Joel Klaassen.
The board meets once a month at Hillsboro City Hall. “And then the Chamber, the entire organization, meets once a month at city hall at noon to have programs,” Jost said. Dues for the year are $185.
The mission of the Chamber is to promote Hillsboro while providing leadership that enhances the business climate and the quality of life in the community.
With that mission in mind, the Chamber devised the following goals for the year:
– Offer customer-service training seminars. A new program established in 2003, the seminars are designed to educate business owners and employees, who want to improve their daily customer-relationship skills.
“We started that in 2003, and we’re going to have several more in 2004,” Jost said. Through the seminar, the chamber will have an opportunity to “inform people how it’s a changing world and how service is starting to be the key in a successful business.”
At the first seminar last year, the speaker from Butler County Community College emphasized the importance of “treating customers with the upmost dignity and respect, and accommodating them,” Jost said.
– Encourage and develop ways for members to support each other. By promoting the business community as a cohesive unit, this goal can be achieved through cross promotions and patronizing members’ establishments, Jost said.
“So just letting people know that we’re almost like a huge open-air mall,” he said. “It’s just incredible the variety of unique shops we have, and businesses have people come in all the time from outside of Hillsboro. So they can share with them about other businesses in town-that really helps.”
–Expand and retain Chamber memberships. As the heartbeat of the community, the Chamber and its membership can be vital partners for past members renewing their dues and new members joining the group.
“I think the Chamber is a huge part of the community,” Jost said. “Anytime a new business opens up, before they’re open, guess who they go and talk to-our Chamber office. It’s like the open door to Hillsboro.”
The Chamber functions as a place to promote businesses but, just like a two-way street, people need to think in the other direction-what can they do for the Chamber.
“The Chamber is a place where people can gather and make things happen,” Jost said. “We the people are the ones who have to make it happen. I think we have the resources available right now for those that want to make something happen in this community.”
– Enlist the cooperation of the Kansas Department of Transportation to erect signs-along major highways- directing tourists and travelers to Hillsboro. “We know we’re a great place, but we need to let people outside of this area know we’re a great place,” Jost said.
Key highway locations don’t currently have signs directing traffic to Hillsboro, such as along Interstate 135. “And down by Elmdale, at 150 and 50 highways, they say traffic is going to triple” in the near future, Jost said. “I think it’s important that we start getting our visibility outside of here.”
Jost has already contacted KDOT about the possibility of erecting the signs at no charge to the city. “I’ve started the process, and they’ve been very helpful and very knowledgeable. But, we have a way to go.”
– Work in cooperation with the city of Hillsboro to maintain and beautify the downtown area. “Hillsboro has recently renovated the city with the lights and streets,” Jost said. And a Chamber committee has been established to participate in and keep the lines of communication open during and after any beautification projects.
– Join forces with USD 410 in the implementation of a mentoring program. “That’s a new program in conjunction with the high school and Jeanette Brubacher’s” project, said Megan Kilgore, executive director of the Hillsboro Management Board.
“We’re actually working with the school in putting in place ( a program) where students will come in and do job shadowing.”
– Encourage greater attendance at monthly luncheons and special activities. The public is invited to the monthly luncheons. They include a variety of informative programs and speakers from inside and outside the area.
“For example, we had one of the local accountants talk about the advantage of buying Chamber bucks and how that can be a tax write off,” Jost said. “It’s just informing people about ongoing things that are happening in our city, state and world. We host a legislative coffee a couple of times a year, too.”
– Participate in city-council meetings. “I will personally try to be at all city-council meetings and have representation from the board,” Jost said.
As a comprehensive city-government unit, council members can keep communication open with the Chamber members, who can voice concerns and issues of importance within the business community.
– Research the possibility of acquiring a trolley to promote the community. “This is just the beginning,” Kilgore said about an idea proposed by an individual in the community.
Similar to promotional trolleys in larger metropolitan areas, it could be used in the evenings to take visitors to local restaurants and, following the meal, take them for a tour of the history of Hillsboro. It could also be used in parades and for advertisement purposes locally and outside the area.
– Promote and support activities for the local youth. “Local youth, who maybe want something in the city of Hillsboro, can work with the city government,” Jost said. “And the Chamber would help them to go about the process” of finding the appropriate contact person and the best way to accomplish their project.
“For example, we’ve had some local youth express interest in a skate-board-park area,” Jost said. “And maybe they’ll come to the Chamber and ask us if we’ll help them in the process of doing that.”
The Chamber office is staffed on a regular basis by Kilgore and Maralyn Stoltzfus.
“We work hand in hand,” Jost said. “Megan is my support. If it wasn’t for Megan and Maralyn, I don’t think these things would exist, because they take the ideas, and they make them a reality.”
As the new Chamber president guiding the members on this year’s journey, Jost said he is happy to take on his role as leader and facilitator of board policies and goals.
“I think it’s fascinating to work with people on a basis other than my business,” Jost said. “It’s working for a good cause for Hillsboro, and it lets me be a part of where I live.”