January 18, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
More than 70 businesses joined the Orion Area Chamber of Commerce last year.
The Chamber's leadership plans to make their membership, as well as that of other local businesses, well worth it in 2012.
"It feels like the economy is starting to pick up and we've got a number of programs and events in the works to help our members make this year a good one," said OACC Executive Director Alaina Campbell last week.
The OACC wants its members, especially restaurants, bars and retailers, to take advantage of the 100,000-plus people expected to visit the area during the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in July.
To help accomplish this, the OACC plans to distribute maps and information on things to do in the area to local hotels that will be catering to out-of-town guests. President Bill Kokenos said his organization welcomes new members who want to join in anticipation of the golf event.
"Our marketing campaign will heavily promote all of the Chamber members to visitors," he said. "There will be a lot of people staying in hotels and looking for something to do when they aren't watching golf.
"We want them spending their time and money here, rather than in Bloomfield Hills or Birmingham."
Campbell said the OACC also is focusing on establishing more partnerships with surrounding chambers to enhance its members networking opportunities this year.
"Networking, especially for businessses that provide products and services to other businesses, is huge," she said. "Referrals work. You wouldn't believe how many our members receive."
The OACC is expanding its educational programming and seminars for members, too.
This week, it is hosting a special seminar on how companies can save money on their energy bills during winter and throughout the year. The group's "bootcamp" series continues, as well, including topics on elevator marketing speeches, social media, public relations and advertising.
These topics appear aligned with the needs of small business owners across the nation. A recent "New Year's Resolution" survey by TD Bank said 26 percent of 300 small businesses across the country indicted that want to spend more time and resources on sales and marketing.
May 8 is the date for the OACC's annual Business Expo at Lake Orion High School, held in partnership with the student-run DECA business and marketing club. A total of 87 local companies participated in last year's event held in the gym. It was attended by more than 1,000 people who also were at the school for parent-teacher conferences.
"We may have to limit the number of companies participating due to space limitations," Campbell said. "Or some may have to move to the gym track."
The OACC plans to host "Pizza Wars" again this year at the expo, featuring a number of local eateries that hand out free samples. There also will be a special kids' area at this year's expo, featuring Basketball America, fLipSpot Gymnastics and other similar businesses.
Local students may also be interested in the OACC College Scholarship Program. Vice President Loretta Lussier Spatafore said any student from the Lake Orion area studying at a two- or four-year college or university is encouraged to apply for the $1,000 scholoarship. Last year, 24 kids applied, she added.
The OACC scholarship application can be picked up at the high school's counseling office and must be turned in by May 4.
Earlier this month, the OACC launched its redesgined website, featuring a more contemporary look, enhanced membership directory and expanded photo section, Campbell said.
Other improvements including links to member business websites and YouTube segments are coming soon. Later this spring, the website will feature an online OACC application and payment tool, plus online events calendar and registration process, she added.
"We're also making updates that enable members to use Constant Contact to upload news directly to our Facebook site," the executive director said.
Later this year, the OACC will be working more closely with the Welcome Wagon organization to promote Orion-area businesses more aggressively to new residents.
"When I moved here a while back, I received a Welcome Wagon package and it included stuff from Rochester-area businesse," Campbell said. "We want to eliminate that and promote our own businesses in Orion moving forward."