Do you remember the first meaningful connection you made when you started your business or took on a new position? Who was that friendly face that encouraged you to get connected with the business community, to engage with other like-minded individuals? Who made that introduction to someone who has become so valuable to you both personally and professionally you can not imagine them not being in your life?
For me, that person was a representative from the Melbourne Regional Chamber. It was 2015 and I had recently taken on the executive director’s role at Melbourne Main Street. I was overwhelmed and a little lost, but not for long thanks to the Melbourne Regional Chamber, which not only invited me in, but also supported me along the way.
The Chamber helped me join committees on which I met people who have since become my best friends. It also helped me establish connections in the business community I would not otherwise have had access to and provided a number of opportunities I would have been hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
As a board member for the last three years, I can honestly say the Melbourne Regional Chamber has hit its stride. Michael Ayers, the Chamber’s new CEO, brings with him much needed energy and expertise, and just as importantly a sense of passion, humility and the ability to truly hear those around him.
Joining his team as the director of communications and events is the well-respected Meg Richey, who brings with her a love for this community and a drive for success deeply embedded in everything she touches. Ayers and Richey, along with the entire dedicated staff of the Chamber, are establishing an ecosystem of success that is bringing together businesses of all sizes to build partnerships foundational to the economic development of not just the Melbourne area, but also the Space Coast as a whole.
For Bob Aiello and his family, moving from Georgia to Melbourne in 2014 and leaving behind the successful air conditioning business he founded (BRG Air Systems) was a major risk, but he was not alone in his quest to establish his company on the Space Coast because he had the support of the Chamber. As Aiello tells it, at one of the very first Chamber events he attended, he met individuals with Melbourne Greyhound Park. The conversation started at that first meeting resulted in BRG’s first commercial contract and a business relationship still going strong today.
“Our business is 100 percent referral base, and most of that work comes from our Chamber family network,” Aiello said.
In two-and-a-half years, BRG has grown from Aiello and his truck to three additional employees, two service vans and one install truck housed at a 2,000-square-foot warehouse. The company anticipates adding another service van, two more employees, a customer service representative and another field mechanic in 2018 with more growth to come.
BRG’s experience is not a one-off, but rather one of many examples of how a business owner can use the Melbourne Regional Chamber as a tool to develop and grow his or her business. Aiello’s description of it being a “family network” is perfectly stated. Chamber members do business with other Chamber members, and one of the primary reasons is reflective of the endless opportunities it provides to really get to know people in the community. To learn people’s interests, understand how they do business, and, perhaps most importantly in a giving community such as ours, see how they give back by supporting causes near and dear to their hearts.
Fostering Community and Economic Development
Another one of the Chamber’s powerful assets is its connection to some of the largest companies in the area and its focus on bringing companies large and small together to foster economic development on the Space Coast. One of the best examples of this is its partnership with the Orlando-Melbourne International Airport. The strong ties between the Chamber and the airport start at the highest level — through board representation. Past Melbourne Regional Chamber Chair Jack Ryals serves as the chairman for the Airport Authority Board, creating a line of communication between the two organizations that allows for consistent updates on the initiatives taking place.
“Sixty percent of the passengers who travel from our airport are business travelers,” said Rob Himler, airport communications coordinator. “Thanks to the relationships built and fostered by Airport Authority Chairman Jack Ryals, we’re able to update the community on a regular basis on all of the significant events at the airport.”
Most recently, the airport hosted the Chamber’s ENGAGE Young Professional group for an exclusive tour of the new air traffic control tower. More than 70 young professionals and Chamber board members were among the first individuals to see the new tower and get insight from executives at the airport who work on economic development initiatives. It was evident from the attendance and energy in the room that there is no question among the young professional community about the central role the airport plays in the vitality of the community they call home.
The partnership between the two organizations is also best represented by the annual Chamber Fly-In to Tallahassee. The support from the airport makes it possible for small companies, nonprofits, four chambers and other community leaders to meet with legislators to advocate for policies beneficial to the local business community.
“This is one of the signature ways the Melbourne Regional Chamber advocates on behalf of our members and the community as a whole,” said Brent Peoples of Raymond James and current chairman of the Chamber. “To be able to do so with the resources of the airport behind us sets us apart from other counties.”
The Chamber’s ability to bring together businesses of all sizes and industries and to meet the distinct needs of each is where it shines. Under Ayers’ direction, the goal is for the Chamber to be a one-stop shop for the business community — a place where partnerships are established and advocacy turns into action.
Another powerful asset that is easy to overlook is the Chamber’s board of directors. Around this table are countless individuals paving the way in their respective industries who bring a rich diversity of expertise to the organization. Being part of that board is one of the greatest privileges I have experienced as a young professional. If you want to be part of an organization that takes you in, mentors you and opens doors of opportunity to meet new people, grow your business and build lasting ties in the community, the Melbourne Regional Chamber has it all.
For those of us who are involved with the Chamber, we equate it to a blue flame: The Chamber is on fire, but a good fire. A blue flame is different; it is much hotter and more efficient. It is also something to gather around, to peer into, because it is something to see and watch grow. The Chamber is poised for a remarkable 2018. Join us on this journey. u Editor’s note: This article appeared in SpaceCoast Business April 2018. It is used in this publication with permission.