Partnering with Area Chambers and Local Officials to Make Regional Change
Fort Collins, CO
[Intro] Welcome to chats with chambers with your hosts Patrick Kirby and Sami Bedell-Mulhern. Each week we connect and learn from executives of chambers of commerce from across the country. These short episodes will share success stories, challenges, best practices, and tips and tricks to inspire you, and provide resources for hitting your organizational goals. From recruiting new and retaining current members to finding new and creative revenue sources. You’ll hear straight from those leading chambers and communities throughout the US. Chats with chambers is proudly brought to you by the Nonprofit bootcamp. Learn more and check out the show notes for episodes at https://nonprofitbootcamponline.com
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Hey, everybody, so excited to be back with a another episode of chats with chambers. And I’m super excited about this because we have Ann Hutchinson here from Fort Collins, and I’m a CSU alum. So go Rams.
[Ann Hutchinson] Absolutely go rams.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] And thank you so much for being here today.
[Ann Hutchinson] Thank you. I’m excited for the conversation and appreciate the invite.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, so for people that don’t know much about Fort Collins, Colorado, and kind of what makes you guys such an awesome place to be. Why don’t you share a little bit about your area and your chamber?
[Ann Hutchinson] Absolutely. We’re in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is about an hour north of Denver. We’re a community of 170,000 people. We serve as home to Colorado State University, but also have a diverse business platform that includes high tech with HP having a campus here in Fort Collins, as well as Intel, AMD and a number of other high tech offers. Additionally, then we have a strong small business climate, a tremendous downtown presence and a growing manufacturing opportunity as well.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Yeah, I love that. And I like I was saying before we scheduled or before we started recording. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there. And I know it’s grown tremendously since I’ve been there. But having a large university like what’s the population kind of mix between like when students are on campus? And when they’re not? Like do you see a big shift?
[Ann Hutchinson] We do. So Colorado State is our single largest employer with 5000 employees that represent faculty and staff. They also then end up with 20,000 students that are on campus in one one form or another. And of course, that’s been very different during COVID. But we absolutely see that surge of population, although it’s not as big of an impact to our population in today. Versus back when we were we were much smaller community. Yeah, certainly that that impact has grown smaller as our population has grown over time.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] That’s great. Well, and why don’t you share with us kind of one of the big wins that you have had at your chamber or maybe something that you’re most proud of that you all have been able to accomplish?
[Ann Hutchinson] Certainly we have. We’ve grown up with the community. And certainly when we were established in 1904, small Mainstreet business was our primary focus. And we continue to inspire and encourage small business here in Northern Colorado. But much of our work more recently has been regional in perspective, we know that there are large regional issues that if we don’t affect those, if we don’t impact change, negative things can happen to our community. So we’ve been working alongside government, other business leaders and the larger community over the last several years to expand interstate 25, which is our lifeblood from Denver to Northern Colorado. And that’s a roadway that was built in 1969. It hasn’t had any market expansion, since then, and in fact, wasn’t on many to do lists at the state level for for almost another 50 years. So the chamber alongside others stood up and said, We need to expand this roadway. We need to help secure the funding. We need to rally local funding to come to the table as well as leverage as much state and federal money as we can and expand that roadway so that we can make sure we can move goods, services and people throughout throughout the region. And I’m happy to say we’ve been able to secure almost a billion dollars Ah is now being put to use on that roadway expanding it from a four lane highway to a six lane highway. And we continue that work today. And again, we don’t do it alone. We’ve been a convener in that space helping to lead in that space. But we certainly haven’t done that work alone. We’ve had a lot of other tremendous leaders that have joined us in that work.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] So was that something then that also brought in Chambers from other communities that are also utilizing the I 25 corridor?
[Ann Hutchinson] It absolutely did. We work very closely with our friends at the Loveland chamber, as well as at the Greeley area Chamber. And it was that joint leadership that really brought this change to light. The great news was we’d already had a tremendous background and working together on big issues. This was just one of those most recent ones that we’ve been able to execute on.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] That’s so interesting. And like what a great kind of outside of the box way of thinking outside of your community that will impact your community to say, if we can’t get people here, if we can’t get supplies up here, if it’s clogged, and it’s not convenient, you know, kind of what spurred that or how was that kind of something because that’s a big project that your leadership, like we really need to focus on this.
[Ann Hutchinson] So as we reflect back on the start of this work, we were in a meeting and again, it was with the Loveland and the Greeley chambers alongside our economic development partners here in Northern Colorado. And we were talking about a legislative agenda for the next year. And what were the things that we wanted to work on to gather at the state capitol, that would have an impact. And as the conversation continued, we got to a point where everyone looked at each other and said, you know, changing unemployment is great, and changing what our expectations of businesses of employees is fabulous. But if we don’t fix that road, if we don’t fix that road, and we’re going to have to do that work, if we don’t do it, no one else will. And the rest of it doesn’t matter. So it was that true aha moment when our business community looked each other in the eye and said, This is job one, and we need to get behind it. And it is new work. For us. It is completely outside of what we’re used to doing. But the work that we do every day on that project impacts the mom and pop retail shop on Main Street as much as it does. Colorado stage or UC Health or any of the other large employers that we have across northern Colorado. So it’s been interesting, exciting, challenging, and fun work all the way
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] around. And what a great lesson to learn for future proactive things like that. Um, so you know, that was a problem that you had, that you figured out how to solve what might be kind of something else that you all are kind of struggling with in kind of the near term? And what’s something that you all are trying to do to creatively solve that problem?
[Ann Hutchinson] Well, as we’ve done this work, we’ve identified that we can be very impactful, and in an environment that’s challenging, and as elected officials change over time, there are going to be moments where our elected officials are absolutely very pro business in their perspective and wanting to be partners with the business community, there are going to be times when they’re elected officials that have very different perspectives. And we’ve been spending a lot of time working on how do we find common ground with people that maybe don’t have us have the same view of the world as a as a chamber member or as the business community? And how do we continue to be impactful even in that in that state of change? And a lot of that means that we’re spending time focusing on what are the business friendly solutions that we can embrace as a community? What are the places that we can support ideas that are maybe brand new for chambers to think about? How do we promote an agenda that is, is good for all, not just for some?
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think that’s harder, as you mentioned, as you’ve grown past just Main Street and you have larger corporate companies, they have different needs than smaller corporate are smaller main street businesses. So you know, do you have different support systems for them? Or are you just kind of trying to go with you know, one area versus I mean, I guess that’s not a fair question. But well,
[Ann Hutchinson] we’re highly. We were highly focused on building community, and providing pathways for employers of all sizes, to be able to impact their community, to be able to give back to their community to be able to create community. And we ended up being that conduit to help them do that, maybe more, just a smidge more efficiently, maybe a smidge more effectively, and in a space where others can join alongside.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I think that’s, that’s amazing. And so good to hear. What would kind of be one tip that you would want to share with other chamber executives that are listening as kind of a way that they can improve on something or try something new that maybe they haven’t thought of inside of their organization?
[Ann Hutchinson] Certainly, we’ve been highly focused on being a convener on being a catalyst and on being a champion. And I think no matter what size your chamber is, if you’re serving a community of 100 members, or you’re serving a community of 1000s, of members, there is a role for you to play on issues that are bigger than your organization. There, there is a role for you to play in the larger community. There’s no doubt that COVID And the response that chambers have provided across the country, showcased the impact that a chamber can have the the coalescing of resources and leadership that a chamber can provide in a moment of crisis. I I’m hopeful that my chamber peers across the country will lean in on that great, great work that they did during COVID. And realize that that’s a role that they can play from now to the end of time. And that’s how they’ll be impactful in their community.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] Well, I think it’s great what you’re saying and that everybody might not be working on a billion dollar project to improve the interstate, right? But, but every chamber can work within the other chambers in their local area to kind of pull the power of numbers together to work with their officials on the most important things that are, are there for the region. So I think that’s a great, great message for people to think about. Yes. So if people are in the Fort Collins area, and they’re listening to this episode, and they’re thinking, You know what, this sounds great. I want to be part of the greater good. I want to help build community because I have community, why might somebody want to join the Fort Collins chamber? And how can they learn more about the great things that you’re doing?
[Ann Hutchinson] Absolutely. Well, we certainly invite people to come and visit us on site, but certainly our electronic footprint is located at Fort Collins chamber.com. And our value proposition to business is, we can be your connector, we can provide those very traditional networking and access points. But we can also be your voice on larger regional impactful issues. And we believe that investment ends up being a bargain for for anything that you’re wanting to get done. And and we want to be that conduit. We want to be that bridge to help you continue to thrive and be successful.
[Sami Bedell-Mulhern] I love that. That’s so great. Well, and thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you.
[Closing] Hey, thanks for listening to chats with chambers. For more information about the chamber featured in this episode or to check out show notes for links and resources. Visit nonprofitbootcamponline/podcast. Hey subscribe, give us a five star review if you liked what you heard and if you are a chamber would like to be a guest on this show. Hey, email us firstname.lastname@example.org Or email@example.com Links in the show notes
Fort Collins is about an hour north of Denver and is the home of Colorado State University. They also have a high-tech industry as well as a thriving small business climate and great downtown presence.
The Fort Collins chamber partnered with other area chambers as well as governement agencies and business leaders to build infastructure that would impact their ability to grow. They worked on improving the I-25 corrider to allow for expansion so there could be easier transportation of goods, services and people to Northern Colorado. The group altogether has raised $1 Billion for the cause. By bringing in area chambers it helped to make a stronger voice.
This project helped them see that they can make a big impact. The challenge is that as elected officials change, their ability to move change forward is impacted. They’re continuing to work on build relationships and having conversations to help with continual business minded conversations and finding solutions that are great for all and not just for some.
No matter what the size of your organization, realize your impact and keep moving forward. Ann wants you to remember that you can do big things!
Questions We Asked
- What is the Fort Collins Area Chamber all about? [1:14]
- What are some wins? [3:12]
- What are challenges you face? [8:10]
- What is your tip and trick to pass on to other chambers? [10:42]
- How can you learn more about Fort Collins? [12:35]
Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce
The Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce is a champion for business, the regional economy and the greater Fort Collins area community.
Owned and led by its members, the Chamber is an active and forward-focused organization of 1,200 members. Member businesses are of all sizes and types ranging from sole proprietors to large multi-national corporations and from locally owned retailers to internationally renowned high tech firms.
Also in the membership mix are brand new startups and longstanding companies that have been members of the Chamber since it was founded in 1904. Learn more at https://fortcollinschamber.com