LAUGHLIN — The Laughlin, Bullhead City, and Lake Havasu chambers of commerce hosted a seminar titled “The ABC’s of Chamber Success” last month at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino for several other chambers in the lower Colorado River region. They included Searchlight, Kingman, Golden Valley, Oatman, Boulder City, Dolan Springs and Needles.

“Places that likely couldn’t afford to send their chamber personnel to the W.A.C.E. Academy, to give them a sense of the true purpose of Champions” said Laughlin Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jackie Mazzeo.

The one-day intensive and interactive leadership training workshop was focused on providing strategies to building an effective and dynamic leadership team at those chambers. It included a presentation delivered by Dave Kilby, president/CEO of Western Association of Chamber Executives and executive vice president, corporate affairs, for the California Chamber of Commerce. 

Several members of the three ”host” chambers were in attendance to steward and chaperone the guest chambers. Mazzeo and John Pynakker, president and CEO of the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce were on hand. Mazzeo is slated to graduate in February. Pynnaker is in his third year of the academy. 

“It’s a great opportunity for all of the communities along the Colorado River region to come together for a common interest,” Mazzeo said. “To educate ourselves, share a meal and make new friends in the industry. This workshop is to enlighten chamber staff, chamber boards, volunteers and business owners on the vision for chambers.  The three co-sponsoring chambers of Laughlin, the Bullhead City Area and Lake Havasu City have been blessed to attend the W.A.C.E. Academy over the years and want to share a little bit of the motivation and passion expressed by our instructors. We are looking forward to the day and the collaboration that results from our meeting one another.”

The workshop is intended to enlighten the smaller rural chambers to give them an idea of trends and basics of how to work the three C’s: catalyst (motion), convener (communicator) and champion (action), the basics of the Institute for Organizational Management at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Chambers should be those three things.” Mazzeo said. “(With them) you can achieve anything.”

Kilby had a direct message: Get proactive.

He began by stating that many in the room might not like what he had to tell them, that it might be challenging and that “it may not be your time yet.”

He described the chamber existence as a whitewater rafting trip.

“No two are alike,” he said. “You never know what’s around the next bend, it’s always different. This is not floating on a glassy water.”

Kilby said, “Chambers that have issues likely don’t have the right people, or have ‘Protectors of the pack.’ ”

Those are people more concerned about maintaining the status quo. He said that allowing past board members to stay on often results in keeping old and bad habits alive rather than infusing new blood and ideology into those chambers. 

One major issue Kilby noted is that most chambers don’t pay enough to retain the best qualifies boards. He described it as “hiring cheap.” Low wages and poor benefits keep many of the most qualified from seeking positions on chamber boards he said. Many times only retirees with their finances already in place are the only one’s who can afford to take such positions, again resulting in stagnate chambers based on past experience. Kilby said “They’re not running the chamber like a business,” adding “They need to hire the very best.” 

He also said many modern chambers are “staffed by Baby Boomers, with few to no 30-somethings.” Those younger people don’t want to sit on a board with their parents, grandparents, or teachers, feeling out of place in such a setting and stifling any new ideas they might be able to offer.

“We need 30-year-olds, not Baby Boomers,” he said.

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