S O, it is happy birthday to the County Tipperary Chamber!
The moves towards creating an all-county Chamber began in 2011 and, at that time, we started to engage informally with many business groups around the county.
However, over time we were unable to find a common ground with associations that were focusing on micro issues within their own towns.
That is why we, as Clonmel Chamber, decided to create the County Tipperary Chamber by ourselves and to move forward with its development.
We have always been at pains to point out that the town Chambers, including Clonmel, are best placed to look at the micro issues within their respective towns. The focus of the County Tipperary Chamber since its outset has been different.
The County Tipperary Chamber is focused on facilitating growth within member companies.
Representing Member Companies
The county now has a strong business voice representing the concerns of the business community and the local economy at a national level. We are represented on a national level on the board of Chambers Ireland, Ireland's largest business group.
We employ registered lobbyists to represent the views of our members to local and national government decision makers. Furthermore, we spend a considerable amount of time seeking to solve the problems of member companies by liaising with the aforementioned decision makers in meetings in both County Halls and Leinster House.
The President of the County Tipperary Chamber Mark Small, as a member of the County Council's Strategic Policy Committee, was the driving force in the new Commercial Incentive Scheme. The scheme aims to drive business growth amongst start-ups in defined urban areas. Furthermore, he alone is currently actively driving the creation of a similar scheme, to be funded by the Tipperary County Council, to benefit existing businesses within the same defined urban areas. In his work, he has sought to enable businesses across the county to grow. The presence of a strong voice for the business community is essential for economic growth in Tipperary and Mark, in his role as President, provides that.
We also serve on the Local Community Development Committee and we will be looking at apportioning LEADER funding from later this year to help business across the county.
In fact, it was the lobbying of the Chamber that ensured that Clonmel will be included in the next round of LEADER funding.
Changing World for Chambers of Commerce
One thing that I have come to understand from my time as CEO of Clonmel and County Tipperary Chambers is that the nature of business networks is changing. Historically, a Chamber could encourage everyone to participate by circling the wagons and keeping all of their business within a very small defined geographical space.
However, with the advances in technology the concept of 'shutting the town gates' is now virtually redundant. That is why we have operated as we have in recent years.
The companies that own the Chamber are the members. The members have told us, time and again, that they want to grow their businesses. As a result, the programming and initiatives that we have created have been done to meet the needs that the member companies have.
Late last year we launched our first international network in London. The Chamber International Network is now firmly established as a means for our member companies to meet with UK based companies. Our first event, at the RBS headquarters in Bishopsgate in London, was attended by a group of thirty business people.
On the night Tipperary businesses got to meet with some of the most influential decision makers at some of Britain's biggest companies. In short, our members were exposed to companies with a combined annual procurement spend of just over stg£3,000,000,000 at that event.
Many of our member businesses won business on the night. We will be continuing these events later this year with more events to be announced in the coming days.
This, as we know, is the 21st century and how business is done has changed. As a result, what a Chamber of Commerce can do to deliver a return on investment to its members has also changed. Chambers of Commerce cannot continue to focus on micro issues and just one sector, oftentimes fighting fights that cannot be won.
We represent an amazing array of businesses in every sector. What we can do is to help members to grow their business through our suite of services and events. What we cannot do is reduce commercial rates at the tap of a magic wand, we cannot solve parking problems and we cannot create a consumer demand.
However, we can provide training to help businesses to attract customers, we can lobby to change bye-laws regarding traffic flow, we can highlight solutions to problems and we can help you to grow your business through the provision of information and the creation of new business relationships.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things that I consistently come across is the belief, held by many people that we are a constituent part of the local Council. We are an independent member owned organisation that is only funded through membership fees and commercial income. We are not part of the Tipperary County Council and are not funded as an arm of the aforementioned organisation. At times some of the frustrations that some people have with us are borne out of the misguided belief that we are an arm of local government.
Who We Really Are
We are an organisation that is laser focused on its member companies. We are the largest business group in the county and one of the largest in Ireland. Our staff, based in Sarsfield Street and on Cahir Road in Clonmel, have helped many members with individual problems that were impacting on the success of their businesses.
Our organisation continues to operate the Clonmel Chamber and we are still working on issues relating specifically to the town. One of our Directors, Julian Smith, is an active participant in the Clonmel Retail Forum where he provides significant input into how the town should be marketed as a retail destination. I, along with three of our members, serve on the board of the Clonmel Business Development Park in Carrigeen which provides cost effective office space for early stage companies. In short, we continue to serve our Clonmel Chamber members in tandem with the County Tipperary Chamber.
This has been a particularly exhilarating year filled with 'interesting times'. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the tremendous voluntary effort of the board and members and the work of my colleagues into working towards creating an organisation that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.