Tolland County Chamber looks ahead by returning to local focus

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Tolland County - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
Drew Crandall of Keep In Touch, Inc., talks about the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce's new website, which he helped create, at the Chamber's Annual Meeting on Oct. 22.
Drew Crandall of Keep In Touch, Inc., talks about the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce's new website, which he helped create, at the Chamber's Annual Meeting on Oct. 22.

There was something of a retro feel as the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce turned the page on another year at its annual meeting on Oct. 22. Outgoing President Julie Paolino said the past year has seen many changes, including technological upgrades to the Chamber's social media efforts and its online newsletter.

But, much of the focus of the speakers was about getting back to the original premise of a Chamber of Commerce, which is local businesses helping local businesses. "I believe the team of the Chamber is the strongest ever, because we're committed to being a resource for each other's businesses," Paolino said. "We've created an environment to support each other in the community in both tangible and intangible ways."

Greg Williams, who will be the Chamber President for 2013-2014, introduced the new board of directors and thanked Paolino. "Julie did a great job leading us through the past year, and I am really counting on her being with us through this next year," Williams said.

Referring to marketing and networking events, Williams said he has observed that while the economy is still slow, some businesses are thriving and some are not doing well, and that there is little changing in that regard, but that re-focusing on those business-to-business relationships is the best way the region can recover.

"The only way I believe we're really going to recover from this is if we get back to basics and by focusing on our local communities," Williams said. "If every community does that, we're really going to become stronger again."

Williams said the Internet had a huge impact on businesses and Chambers, because small businesses can become world-wide, but that idea didn't pan out as many had hoped. "For most of our businesses, it really comes down to relationships," he said. "Sure, the Internet can support you, but you can't really build these relationships." 

Williams said he would like to make the upcoming year about members really getting to know each other, both personally and business-wise. "If we do business in our community," Williams said, "our community strengthens, our schools strengthen, and everything gets better."

The members were then asked to take part in an exercise where they had to answer questions about themselves, and then share that information with everyone else at their tables. Many said they learned that they have more in common with their fellow members than they thought, and that their differences were quite interesting.

Drew Crandall of Keep In Touch designed the Chamber's re-vamped website, with more innovations focused on bringing local businesses together, including an easier-to-use member directory, as well as simplified graphics and navigation. "We wanted to focus on business-to-business, the core purpose of the website being a resource for the business community," Crandall said. "We also wanted to convey a 'can do' attitude – action, enthusiasm, forward motion."

Awards for Economic Development and Beautification went to Santini Construction, and Eric Santini will be taking over as the Economic Development Committee Chair.

Kim Milikowski of Express Verizon also received an Economic Development award. Milikowski, who started her business in 1989 with $500 in start-up cash, was called "the epitome of a successful, self-made, entrepreneur" by Santini. She now has 28 employees in five locations.

In keeping with the meeting's theme, Milikowski showed a large cell-phone from the '80s, and said, "When I met a lot of you in this room, this is what a cell phone looked like."

Another Economic Development Award was given to The Mansfield Downtown Partnership, for  their creation of Storrs Center, a mixed-use community center on the edge of the UConn Campus.

Crandall and Keep In Touch also received an Economic Development Award. Another beautification award went to Scranton Motors for their recent expansion and renovation.

The award for Corporate Citizenship went to Kahan, Kerensky and Capossela, LLC. "They are an institution in our area," Santini said, adding that among the firm's accomplishments in Tolland County, it has created a fundraising committee that has raised funds for the Hockanum Valley Community Council and other local charities.

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