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Chamber adapts to connecting in a virtual world

By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

For an organization whose mission is to develop and foster social connections, the Lewisville-Clemmons Chamber of Commerce has certainly faced some challenges during the past five months. The non-profit, volunteer-led organization has more than 250 members from the local business community.  Since March, Ditra Miller, the executive director of the chamber, has been challenged with the task of keeping its members engaged and connected while being limited to having virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Remarkably, every scheduled monthly meeting has been held and various other events for members have taken place in virtual settings. While acknowledging that there have been some significant challenges, Miller feels that the chamber has been able to successfully fulfill its role in serving its members. “It’s been good,’ she said. “The chamber has been resilient and has done some good things. We haven’t missed a beat.”

Miller, who describes herself as a “tech geek,” has done a masterful job of incorporating innovative technology into making it possible for the chamber’s monthly meetings to be personal and interactive. She decided to switch from using the Zoom meeting platform to a program called Hopin. With this platform, members can meet for small group meetings and one-on-one conversations before the large group meets. Participants can also engage in a chat format while a keynote speaker is presenting during a large group meeting, and they can also chat among themselves.

An advantage to the online format for the chamber’s meetings is that they can be recorded and archived for members who cannot attend a meeting at the scheduled time. Miller indicated that recorded meetings are posted on Facebook and on YouTube where they can be viewed at a later time.

Another advantage to the online meetings are the “virtual booths” that can be set up by chamber members. While there are space and time limitations as to how many of these can be presented at an in-person meeting, a virtual format allows for more of these booths where members have the opportunity to showcase their businesses.

A unique feature of the virtual platform being used by the chamber has been the presentation of “virtual ribbon cuttings.” These were done in-person before the need for online meetings, but for now are being done virtually to feature companies that are a newly established business or that have a new location.  Truly Nolen Pest Control was featured for a virtual ribbon cutting on Aug. 18 and Goose Masters, a company that uses trained border collies to control geese, will have a virtual ribbon cutting on Sept. 25.

Goose Masters will also host this month’s Young Professionals Networking Group meeting, which are for members under the age of 50. Goose Masters will do a demonstration of how they train their dogs to effectively control geese on properties such as golf courses, private estates, colleges and universities, and parks and playgrounds. The company advertises itself as “providing an environmentally safe and humane way to control geese.”

In addition to the regularly scheduled chamber meetings that are held at noon on the second Tuesday of every month, the chamber has begun sponsoring events for the members of the Young Professionals Networking Group. The first one, a Virtual Trivia Night, was held on Aug. 26. This event drew 13 participants, and it was sponsored by Rachel Abbott State Farm Insurance, one of the newest chamber members.

Some future events are being planned to keep members of the Young Professionals Networking Group engaged and active. Meika Imes, who was hired to be the community and member relations manager for the chamber in February, is planning these events that will be held on the second Wednesday of each month from 6-7 p.m.    

Miller had glowing remarks about Imes, who recently joined the administrative team at the chamber. “She was hired in February just before the pandemic so she came in at a challenging time.” Miller said. “Meika has done a fantastic job. She has had to think outside the box to come up with some great ideas, and she has done that well.”

In addition to the monthly meetings and other events that have kept chamber members engaged over the past several months, Miller noted that the chamber has been active in a project to help eligible businesses obtain PPE kits to help them to operate safely. The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners has approved the purchase of PPE items for businesses who were affected by the COVID-19 Stay at Home Order.

The chamber has partnered with Greater Winston-Salem, Inc. and the Kernersville Chamber of Commerce to confirm qualifications for local businesses and a scheduled pickup of the kits that include masks, gloves and sanitizing wipes.

There is an active schedule of planned LCCC meetings and events for the next several weeks. These include the next monthly meeting on Sept. 8 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and a Social Media Scavenger Hunt on Sept. 19 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. In addition, there is Community Connections Wednesdays from 8:45-9:45 a.m. Also scheduled are Chamber Connections Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and Coffee Connections Thursdays from 9:15-10:15 a.m.  The events calendar can be found on the chamber’s website, www.lewisville-clemmons.com.