Madison County Chamber 2021 - Page 12

12 MCC Business Directory and Resource Guide

Q & A WITH ROB SPARKS

BY ANDY KNIGHT

The Madison County

Chamber of Commerce and the Corporation for Economic Development have been joined together in a Strategic Alliance for nearly two decades . Talks aimed at revitalizing the partnership between the organizations have continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic .
Rob Sparks , executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development , discussed the importance of the alliance recently :
AK : How did this alliance come about ?
RS : There ’ s been ongoing
discussion probably since the mid-2000s , where we started really looking at the cooperation between the economic development arm and the Chamber arm and some of the other entities in the community at large . But there was never really a clear pathway on how to proceed , and there was a lot of structural components and historical pieces that just made some of it not logical .
But as time went on and opportunities came up , it resurfaced from time to time .
When Clayton came on , we really looked at a collaborative effort late last fall going into winter , thinking about how we were going to hit the ground running . We were really pushing
an agenda going into the first quarter of this year to really get a more purposeful three-year strategy .
We would be looking at how do we not eliminate boards , but how do we co-mingle our expertise and try to move forward into a more seamless effort ? They have a lot of connections on current businesses , local businesses , things that we don ’ t do . We do a lot of traction as our primary focus .
Then the pandemic came along and threw us all into very different roles so that we really have not progressed much .
AK : Why is the Madison County Chamber important to the Corporation for Economic Development as a business partner ?
RS : We have limited staff and limited time , as everybody does . So as we ’ re trying to figure out time management , there ’ s a lot of entities in a county our size that could use business support , that could build value off each other and can grow businesses together . Our county has the ability to benefit if the connections are made .
The Chamber is really a connection organization . It tries to connect people together , businesses together , opportunities together . For us , that ’ s really important . We ’ re meeting with new guys that haven ’ t got a lot of relationships , so how can we bring that together ?
If they can find a local architect , if they can find a local builder , if they have an electrician they could use here locally , then we shift money that would have gone outside our county to be spent in our county instead .
I always tell people commerce is the trading of dollars among us , and economic development is when you attract someone from the outside to come in and spend money in our community . What we want to do is attract those guys to spend money , but we want them to spend money
with the businesses ( which are ) currently here .
AK : Why is the Corporation for Economic Development important to the Chamber ?
RS : Because its membership has limited access to these new company opportunities , and it ’ s a natural bridge for them to have those access points to be able to figure out , how do I benefit ? It ’ s great that Company X is here now , but how do I benefit my company , my efforts – how can that help me ? My apartment complex , if workers are living there , or my house builders , I build homes for them .
So that ’ s how that ’ s a natural bridge that we probably should have always been communicating . Our goal is to be very purposeful in trying to make those connections happen .
AK : What are some of the goals of this alliance heading into 2021 ?
RS : The derailed component was that we were trying to reach out to some of our major sponsors that give to both our organizations or are independent of each other and make this introduction and kind of talk about the process . ( Whitson ) has been really doing a lot of small business support .
We have actually been very busy on leads , but it ’ s been very , very complicated in a very different environment of doing Zoom calls and telephone calls . I ’ ve actually been to a few site visits , but it ’ s certainly not like it was . It ’ s just a different world , as everybody ’ s has been . It ’ s hard to try and create a new program in the midst of very unknown circumstances .
We are trying to close a few projects , but the basic goals we established are still being included in this relationship building , but it ’ s laid out on a little bit different field because this collaborating effort that we ’ re trying to introduce into these companies , we are getting better at doing that . Trying to get those doors open , we are still going to do that .