The Prince William Chamber of Commerce: A Resource for Local Businesses

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By Tracy Shevlin

Debbie Jones, Prince William Chamber of Commerce (photo credit: Mila Jackson photography)

The Prince William Chamber of Commerce, established in 2010, serves as an advocate and resource for local businesses throughout the Greater Prince William area, including the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. This newly created organization is the product of a merger between the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber (est. 1935) and the Prince William Regional Chamber (est. 1955). Its mission is to help business owners succeed through education programming, networking, promotion and partnerships.

Debbie Jones, the CEO and president of the chamber, has worked for the chamber(s) since 1990. Her background in small business management enables her to understand the needs and perspectives of small business owners. She knows first hand what it’s like to pay employees and to be concerned about the bottom line. She said that business owners sometimes can’t see the logical next steps for growing their businesses because they are engrossed in their day-to-day operations. However, Jones said, when owners are ready, the chamber is there to help.

Behind the scenes, the chamber is an advocate for business owners.  The chamber’s director of government affairs, Brendon Shaw, works full-time with state and local governments to advocate on issues that affect local businesses. Shaw will be in Richmond during the 2017 General Assembly session and is also the chamber’s primary point of contact for all elected officials.

The conversation at this year’s legislative session will center around the Commonwealth’s budget shortfall. The shortfall puts recent gains at risk, including collaborative economic development, credential training programs, K-12 funding and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

In regard to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Shaw indicated that it is important that the General Assembly works to create greater accountability to protect the limited resources that it has made available to the partnership. He added, “We don’t want to lose this type of incentive program because it makes doing business in Virginia more attractive for companies.”

Membership

Those interested in learning more about the chamber are invited to attend any event. If it is a paid event, there is a non-member rate. If it is a free event, such as many of the networking events, prospective members are limited to attending no more than two events per year. Chamber membership has benefits and privileges that members have paid for, which is understood and appreciated by the non-members who also value this type of access.

Membership rates are based on the number of full-time employees a business has on staff. However, there are flat rate exceptions for restaurants and nonprofit organizations. Once they join, the chamber offers an orientation program so that new members can make the most of their memberships.

Events

The chamber offers a variety of events each month promoting new businesses and celebrating milestone events. They also host educational and networking events. The networking events help connect members to others that may be helpful to them. Sometimes these connections become future clients and partners. According to Jones, building relationships is an important function of the chamber.

Along those same lines, the chamber also hosts more specialized networking events for government contractors. According to Amy Hernandez, one of the attendees: “The GovCon Matchmaker events are a great way for small businesses to have one-on-one conversations with big primes and federal agencies. The atmosphere is professional, yet relaxed. Plus there are bonus networking opportunities with other small businesses for possible teaming. It’s always a great event and time well spent.” The “matchmaking events” are open to non-members as well.

A full list of the chamber’s events is posted on its website.

Community Involvement

Recognizing that business is but one part of a healthy and thriving community, the chamber strives to be a resource for everyone. It fully promotes a “Shop Local, Buy Local” philosophy and encourages everyone to shop locally when possible. To assist in this effort, the chamber posts contact information for all member businesses on its website for easy reference.

The chamber also supports the community through scholarship and awards programs. Each year in April, they offer a scholarship to a student whose parent is associated with the chamber. College-age children of the more than 70,000 employees associated with businesses belonging to the chamber are eligible to apply.

In support of local law enforcement and emergency personnel, the chamber hosts the annual Valor Awards to recognize those police, fire and rescue folks who go above and beyond the call of duty. This year’s event will be held on March 23 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, and the public is invited to attend.

In May the chamber will host the Women’s Leadership Conference and the Transitions Expo on Aging, which are both open to the public. The Women’s Leadership Conference is an annual event. It will be held on May 2 at the Regional Center for Workforce Education and Training at the Woodbridge campus of Northern Virginia Community College. The conference theme is “The Art of Being a Successful Woman,” and author and senior scholar Dr. Beth Cabrera of George Mason University will be the keynote speaker. Women of all backgrounds are invited to participate in this inspiring event.

On May 16, the chamber, along with the primary sponsor, Prince William Area Agency on Aging, will host the “Transitions Expo on Aging 2,” which will be held at the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center in Manassas. This event is designed to be of interest to senior citizens, their adult children and caregivers. It will showcase products, resources and services to assist in planning for and managing the aging process. This event is free to attend and open to the public.

Through its efforts supporting local businesses and the community, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce makes the Greater Prince William area a desirable place to live and work.

Additional information regarding membership or events can be found on the Chamber’s website, pwchamber.org.

Tracy Shevlin (tshevlin@princewilliamliving.com) is a native Virginian and long-time Manassas area resident. She is a graduate of George Mason University where she is also an office manager. Follow her on Twitter @nvalady1.

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