Tracy Hale Clark, Executive Director at Louisa County Chamber of Commerce, and the Louisa Forward Foundation
A walking excitement seminar focused on making an impact.
Tracy’s sales and marketing expertise, coupled with her passion for people and fun, inspires others to overcome their fears, believe in possibilities, and build partnerships to lift the community.
Prior to joining the Louisa Chamber, Tracy traveled the country working with various Chamber of Commerce organizations, the US Junior Chamber of Commerce, and more than two hundred local, regional, and national nonprofit programs and over one-thousand events developing strategies and programs for volunteer engagement, event management, and increased FUND raising.
Tracy’s journey with the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce (Louisa) began in January 2019 and she has faced challenges beyond her control, including a global pandemic and a devasting winter storm. Despite these challenges, she led with a spirit of possibility and enthusiasm while creatively transforming the Chamber’s value proposition, impact, and credibility in the community. In three years, the Louisa Chamber has grown by 17% with a 30% increase in new members, received over $65,000 in grants, purchased their first permanent office and most recently celebrated 95 years.
Tracy holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Virginia Commonwealth of Virginia. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Virginia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. She loves being an aunt and grand aunt and travels with family and friends as often as possible. She is always on the go, curious to meet new people and gain new experiences.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About Louisa County Chamber of Commerce
- Grew membership by 17% with a 30% increase in new members
- Louisa Forward Foundation
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix.
Intro: We’re broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: Lee Kantor here, another episode of Association Leadership Radio. And this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Tracy Hale Clark with the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce. Welcome.
Tracy Hale Clark: Tracy Hello. Hi, Lee. Thanks so much for having me.
Lee Kantor: I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about the Louisa County Chamber. How are you serving, folks?
Tracy Hale Clark: Oh, gosh, we’re serving them in a number of ways. Whichever way is possible, we can do. Not sure the familiarity of a Chamber of commerce. So I’ll just give a brief about that. We are the voice of business in our community where the center of the business community and we work to lift up and strengthen our economy, our community through education resources and just overall promoting and engaging the businesses so that they can thrive and grow.
Lee Kantor: What’s your back story? Have you always been involved in chamber work?
Tracy Hale Clark: Gosh, it’s I would say that I’ve always been involved in some capacity with chambers of commerce across the country. Going all the way back to my early twenties. I worked for a publisher actually traveling the country, and I sold pages in a coffee table style book that was used for economic development, and that was done in partnership with Chambers of Commerce. So that was really my first initial introduction to Chamber World, and it was fascinating to see the work that they were doing that crosses a lot of lines, not just in visibility for business and support, but economic development, serving their community. It was just a really interesting and fascinating environment. I then went on to serve actually in the non profit community, predominantly with your disease related type of organizations, working with them on fundraising campaigns and strategies across the country. But when you’re doing that kind of fundraising, you’re always involved with Chambers of commerce. So it’s just been a part of my life for 30 plus years.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, I think the Chambers of Commerce are one of those unsung heroes that are in kind of in the background, but they touch pretty much everything in the community. And when you have a good chamber of commerce, you’re really giving your community a superpower.
Tracy Hale Clark: Yeah, absolutely. I describe it a lot to people that don’t know or aren’t familiar with the Chamber of Commerce is I use kind of the visual of a bicycle wheel. And at the center of that wheel is your Chamber of commerce. And we we are connected to all things related to the community. And so we’re always a great resource to kind of make that first phone call of who do you know, who can you connect me to? And that’s really how I vision or how we function here in Louisa is we are that connector. We we look to build collaborations and connections across all community environments, government, nonprofits, community service, you know, the citizens. It’s it’s pretty exciting Now.
Lee Kantor: When you’re a leader in a chamber, how how do you kind of prioritize what is the efforts that we’re going to be focusing in on in a given period of time? Because there’s so much to do?
Tracy Hale Clark: You are you’re exactly right. There is a lot to do. And my role here in Louisa started in 2019, and as soon as I got through the first year COVID hit. So when you ask me the question about how do you prioritize and determine, you know, I was thrown a massive curve ball rather early in my involvement with the Louisa County Chamber, and we were determining priorities really by listening to the needs of our businesses and the needs of our community. And we just did the best that we could to lift them up and connect them to resources, information, while also maintaining a level of calm and positive that we would get through it. So as we’ve gotten through those couple of years, it’s a new it’s a new environment, particularly in our community. But I would say that listening and really communicating with our membership, being aware and engaged with our community to understand the needs, that’s what determines a lot of our priorities. And every. Chamber is different in the list of priorities because of that reason. They need to pay attention to what the needs in their specific community might be.
Lee Kantor: And how do you balance kind of the needs of the different levels of business that are in any community? You have some kind of mega businesses that are maybe the household names that people know, but probably the majority in quantity are these small to midsize businesses that should be members and would benefit from being members. But you can’t really serve them in exactly the same way you would serve kind of these big enterprise level organizations.
Tracy Hale Clark: Yeah, you’re exactly right. Diversity in our membership is really important, and that’s one of the things that I really love about being a Chamber of Commerce is that we have something to offer no matter what size, no matter what industry, no matter what priorities you have as a business. And I think our job and especially being a leader of the chamber, is to really understand what those priorities and objectives are for the particular businesses in our community. I’ll give you an example of kind of the comment that you made about how do you serve the big mega businesses versus the small local mom and pops, retail, small business, restaurants and so forth. You know, on a daily basis, those B2C type of businesses that are all about bringing people in their doors. Right, getting those customers, that awareness, we do a lot of campaigns related to lifting them up and generating visibility for them, whether it’s with tourism campaigns or right now we’re running a hometown holidays campaign. Of course, the shops, small campaigns that are offered nationally, we we tap into those to help lift up our small businesses on a regular basis. But some of our larger businesses in the area, you know, our utility companies in particular, they are businesses that don’t necessarily need the resources that the chamber offer on a day to day basis. However, they are very community minded and they are great resources.
Tracy Hale Clark: They’re always looking for opportunities to support local and to support what’s happening at the community level. We have great involvement from these larger businesses in that capacity, whether it’s sponsoring events, whether it’s engaging and lifting up small businesses by just supporting purchasing locally, using them with their programs for employee recognition and things. But I would even like to cite, you know, somebody like a utility company that, as I mentioned, we don’t typically get the opportunity to kind of give back to them. We faced a very unique year in January. We were hit with a devastating winter storm. And as a chamber, it impacted our entire community from retail, small businesses to our utility service providers, as well as essential workers. And one of the things that I love about Louisa is we’re so community minded that the Chamber we led this rally cry to support the essential workers that were out in devastating conditions away from their families, trying to get the lights and the power back on to serve the entire community, not just the businesses. And it was really a way to demonstrate, Look, the chamber is here to support you as well as a mega business, even though you’re not looking to drive customers necessarily into shop and buy product from you. We can still be a resource to your business as well.
Lee Kantor: Right? Because you’re in that unique seat of of serving the entire community. And you you have relationships with folks in disparate places that any other individual entity would have a difficult time, you know, rallying all the troops like you can.
Tracy Hale Clark: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s that’s probably one of the things I personally enjoy about my role with the Chamber of Commerce is being that connector and being aware. I describe a lot of times I’m not an expert in a lot of things, but I know enough that I can get the right people to the table. And that’s where the real beauty happens. That’s where the real magic happens. If you can bring together people in a room and discuss, that’s where you can come up with some amazing solutions to tackle problems like workforce or. Emergency situations or even just how do we. We’re launching a program right now for our Main street to revitalize and rebuild our town. Main Street area.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, it’s it’s funny that people don’t realize themselves and their typical life going about their business, their network is kind of siloed in some ways. You know, they don’t know what might be happening, you know, a few blocks down because they’re so into their world. But a chamber kind of knows where what’s going on in all of those kind of entities. And then because of that, you can be that matchmaker and make connections with people who should know each other but may never run into each other in their normal lives.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely. And that’s what I love, too. It’s just, you know, you have to be as a as a chamber director, you do need to immerse yourself into the community and be engaged. And that is one thing that I really do love this community. From the moment that I got here, there’s a unique spirit that people want to work together. They want to help each other. And but just just like you said, they don’t always know where to go or who to talk to. And so just being knowledgeable and getting to know people and network, we’re able to foster a lot of those relationships. And that’s what we do in our programing as well, is we really try to foster those opportunities for people to get to know potential partners and build relationships to solve problems.
Lee Kantor: Are you finding that people are kind of joining chambers or your chamber specifically and leaning into that, knowing that, hey, this is an important, not only important community builder within our community, but it’s good for my business to kind of invest time, energy and resources as being a member and not just kind of writing a check and just like I’m done, but really doing kind of the the work that needs to be done, the volunteering, the showing up and things like that.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely. Our chamber since since the time that I’ve been here, we’ve had phenomenal growth. Our membership is up over 17%. We’ve got a 30% increase in new members. There’s definitely an interest in engagement, especially our reputation as a chamber has grown as being a source prior to, you know, prior to 2019 and certainly prior to COVID. I wouldn’t say that we had the the same level of respect in the community as a resource. And it definitely when COVID hit, it really transformed. And I had businesses prior to that. That we’re not engaged with the chamber. But immediately when we started taking action, they were getting involved and it just continues that way. And as more collaborations and as members are satisfied and getting value from the organization, that’s where the true momentum and growth happens because businesses talk to other businesses and, you know, just like keeping customers happy. If you’re keeping customers happy, then they’re going to talk about you and they’re going to bring more people to your business. It happens the same way with the Chamber of Commerce or really any other organization. If your existing membership is happy and getting value, then they’re going to talk and speak well and refer people to your organization.
Lee Kantor: Right. And markers to determine if you are providing value are the ones that you’re seeing kind of growth in membership, sponsorship, things like that. You’re seeing folks raise their hand and write checks and show up to demonstrate that they are getting value because people just can’t afford to invest in organizations, even the chamber, if they’re not going to get something out of it at the end of the day.
Tracy Hale Clark: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the community at large, the sponsors, as you mentioned, sponsorship dollars and involvement with our chamber has increased immensely. And I hear the reasons behind that are because they are seeing the return and what the chamber is doing and the impacts that we’re making in our community. We just celebrated this is our 95th anniversary and it was it still is. We’re in the middle of fundraising. We we initiated a capital campaign, a legacy campaign to raise $95,000 this year to help us pay off our first ever office. That’s right on Main Street. And the support that we’re getting from our businesses and our community at large is just been so heartwarming. It’s great to see that they do support us and our organization and they do feel the value and the contributions that we’re making to lift up this entire community.
Lee Kantor: Now, do you have any advice for other maybe leaders of chambers in order to kind of grow the next generation? Are you doing anything that can help the next generation of leaders, you know, not only get involved but also kind of add to their arsenal as they kind of grow their career?
Tracy Hale Clark: Specific to chamber members or.
Lee Kantor: Just in general to the business community. Is there anything happening regarding leadership?
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely, we did. Louisa I know that there’s leadership programs in a lot of communities that are started from Chambers of Commerce in a lot of situations, but Louisa, up until last year did not have one. So we initiated our Leadership Louisa program, which is about lifting up business folks to be potential community leaders. We’ve gotten a great response. Our first year was wonderful. We’ve doubled the number of participants this year. Beyond our community and being a leader in developing for the future growth. We also I personally participate with the Virginia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, and we’re involved with training and engagement to help lift up and educate and provide resources for the leaders of other chambers across Virginia. It’s very rewarding. One of the things I’m a big fan of is what I would call R&D, which is basically rip off and duplicate. You know, there’s chambers out there that are doing some phenomenal things and we get a chance to share that as a peer to peer group. And I can adopt that and bring it back to my community for what works here. And I like the ability to be able to do that and help other communities as well, to share what’s going on in our community, to help lift up other parts of the Commonwealth as well.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, that’s so important to have some mechanism that can share best practices and and just transfer that knowledge because everybody wins when you share.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely. I mean, that’s what’s about. It’s the spirit of collaboration. I tend to function from a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, and it pays off every time if you are willing to share, you know, a lot of times competition scarce people, but when you come from a place of there’s enough to go around, it helps. There’s just a greater impact that way.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, that’s I think that anybody that’s been in business for any length of time kind of realizes that that’s the better course of action is is with that spirit of generosity and sharing. And there is plenty to go around in life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely. Yeah. Collaboration is is always better than trying to fly fly solo, you know?
Lee Kantor: Now, what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Tracy Hale Clark: Oh, wow. What do we need more of? Well, I would say that I want to remind the individual community and businesses that even though we have made it through the last few years, what I’ve seen is. A bigger struggle this year than in the past two years. I’ve seen more businesses, small businesses, be impacted by raising costs and expenses. Supply chain issues, workforce issues. And unfortunately, I’ve seen more businesses closed this year than in the past two years. And it’s. It’s unfortunate. At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of new businesses open their doors. So my plea to the community at large is you need to continue to support the business community as you did in the past. They need compassion and understanding because these businesses owners are facing enormous challenges right now. And what I’ve noticed is there’s less compassion from the general public as it relates to businesses. And I can understand we’re all frustrated, you know, raising prices and things are more expensive. You’re you’re not getting as much as you did for the same price. And that can cause a lot of angst with people. But I just ask people to remember that the businesses, you know, the business owners are being squeezed in the middle. They are getting increased pricing challenges with work force, not enough people to work. You know, in some cases, they still have to close their doors because they don’t have enough staff. They have to change their services because they don’t have the staff and employees that they need. So we are still in this transition and and learning our way and compassion from the community at large is still so very important to support our businesses because these business owners are tired. They’re struggling in a lot of ways.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, I see that as well. That’s what I do every day is talk to business owners and it’s just they don’t get appreciated enough. I don’t think people understand the risks that they have are taking and understand the pressures they’re under. And a lot of folks, unless you’ve had a payroll and are responsible for other people, you don’t really understand that life of the entrepreneur. You know, you see these stories of maybe some of these mega entrepreneurs that have, you know, billions of dollars. But that’s just not the case for 99% of folks out there that have businesses. They’re just battling every single day just to kind of survive.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely. I mean, and it is a challenge because the business owners that I know, they really do care about their employees. They care about the community. And it’s it’s hard to not take it personally when somebody complains, oh, I didn’t get my food and enough time or they don’t offer this favorite dish that I used to love, you know, And they in some cases give a bad review or something like that when some of these situations are just beyond their control. Right. They just can’t control that.
Lee Kantor: Yeah, it’s I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with especially in the restaurant business where you read a one star review of they’re so busy like it is has nothing to do with the quality of the food or anything like that. It’s just they’re their busyness is somehow offensive to you. So you’re going to give them a one star review. And it just boggles the mind. And they don’t understand the kind of the ramifications of that and how fragile, especially a restaurant is with a handful of one star reviews. No matter the reason, it just a lot better. I find to if you’ve got a problem, just talk to the manager. They want to know the problem. They’re not, you know, these evil, greedy, exploitive people that the media sometimes makes them seem to be. They’re generous people, that without them your community would suffer.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely. I mean, you hit it with the word generosity. I mean, your small business owners in particular are probably some of the most generous people that I’ve ever met, because they really they are they’re following a passion to support their family and make a living. But they really care about the community in which they chose to do their business. And it’s just just putting that face on a business owner is what I employ. The are ask plead the community to do at large is to have that level of grace and understanding and appreciation that these are people to. They’re your neighbors, they’re your friends. Yeah, they need.
Lee Kantor: Support and they’re the ones, you know, that are are in the background funding your church, your schools and a bunch of other stuff. You have no idea about that. They’re just doing it, you know, because they were asked. And without them the community suffers. So I’m that’s my mission in life is to be that voice of business around the country for small and midsize businesses, because I don’t think that people really understand the pressure. The risk that they’re taking every single day to do what they’re doing. And it’s it’s just hard out there. It’s it’s much harder than it looks. I think the media is it gives a disservice to business by focusing on a handful of these mega celebrity entrepreneurs that make it seem like every business owner out there is like that with private jets and billionaires. And that’s just not the case. Most business owners are just trying to survive, you know, another corner.
Tracy Hale Clark: Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: So if somebody wants to connect with you, what’s the website? What’s the coordinates?
Tracy Hale Clark: Yeah, communicate. Connect with us. We’re on Facebook, LinkedIn. You can go directly to our website, which is Luisa o U is a chamber dot org. Phone numbers 5409670944. We’d love to connect with anybody that’s interested in assisting Louisa County, getting involved here with supporting the businesses and just what we’ve got going on. It’d be great.
Lee Kantor: Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Tracy Hale Clark: Thank you so much, Li. I appreciate the time and all that you’re doing to shine a light on organizations like ourselves and those that are serving the community in the greater good.
Lee Kantor: All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Association Leadership Radio.