The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce is just another business wanting to expand.
The chamber has more than 1,200 members and, as the third largest chamber in the Washington, D.C. metro area, the chamber aims for more — a membership of 2,000 members in another three to five years.
The turnout at the chamber’s annual meeting luncheon Thursday, Jan. 17 may be an indication of things to come within the next year and of what became of 2001.
Two hundred sixty seats at the Belmont County Club dining room that afternoon were filled with another 30 chamber members on a waiting list. Last year, the event attracted 120 guests, a smaller number due, in part, to a change of the event’s date to April, according to chamber staff. In 2000, there were almost 300 members attending.
“I am convinced we could have had 500 people if we had the space,” said Alison Farr, marketing director. “Every year, we’re going up in attendance.”
Chamber President Randy Collins said recent events hosted by the chamber have been sellouts. “It’s great for us, but we hate to turn people away,” Collins said. “Generally, chambers see a resurgence in membership and activity during a downturn in the economy, when businesses need to network more and get out in the community more.”
IN 2001, 335 businesses joined the chamber and several left. Typical of any organization that sells memberships, the chamber gains and loses members on a daily basis. The gain was higher than the loss when Merv Forney served as the board chairman for a second year in a row in 2001.
“Membership grew 20 percent during his tenure,” said Mark Stavish, the 2002 board chairman, at the luncheon. Stavish took over Forney’s seat on Jan. 1.
Forney said when he first joined the chamber in 1995, a luncheon like Thursday’s drew 75 people. “It’s about participating. It’s about leadership, and it’s about sending us your money. We’re the voice of business,” Forney said, adding that strength comes in numbers. "When we say something, people listen.”
“We need to be a clear and active voice for business,” said Stavish, executive vice-president of human resources for America Online, Inc., in Dulles. Stavish outlined the chamber’s goals for the upcoming year, including continuing to work for small businesses, creating and executing public policy positions, leveraging technology as a resource and increasing membership of the chamber. Loudoun has 6,000 businesses. Stavish said he hopes 1,500 of them will be chamber members by the end of the year.
“If a chamber’s going to work, it’s going to work for your business,” Stavish said.
STAVISH PRESENTED the keynote speaker, his boss Barry Schuler, chairman and chief executive officer of America Online, Inc. Schuler gave a one-hour presentation on the company, its customers and the future of Internet. America Online saw five percent revenue growth from 2000 to 2001 and added 6.5 million new members, who, along with existing members, spent $3.3 billion buying products and 70 minutes a day on-line in 2001.
The company has 5,000 employees at its six facilities in northern Virginia, which include more than 1.5 million square feet of office space. More than 1,200 of the employees live in Loudoun County.
“The Internet revolution is about to begin,” Schuler said, adding that the Internet business has experienced a “warm-up" of what is to come. The changes in the next 10 years will be greater than any changes made in the last century, he said.
Schuler gave his vision of Internet in the American home. “Up to this point, the Internet has been about your computer. Now, we’re talking about fundamental changes in your home,” he said, adding that these changes will become habit for consumers, such as now, when Internet users use instant messaging or know they can shop anytime on-line.
One of the changes in the home, Schuler predicts, will be the installation of a broadband connection, a form of high-speed technology that will be provided by telephone and cable companies. Schuler predicts appliances such as television sets, stereos, telephones, computers and game consoles will run off the home network, creating a high-speed digital home.
At the same time, Schuler said many companies and traditional businesses will be transformed. “It’s really about consumers,” he said, adding that consumers will drive the adoption of these new technologies. Companies will have to be flexible to embrace the changes, he said.
“You have to continue to offer services business people want,” said Collins about the chamber. “We’re going to push to get more business people involved. The chamber is financially strong, and I think we’re going to continue to grow in 2002.”
MIDWAY THROUGH the luncheon, the chamber distributed awards to six chamber members.
The awards included:
* The teamwork award, given to Stu Plitman, of Bank of America Mortgage, and Cheryl Beebe, of Cardinal Bank.
* The leadership award, given to Paul Bice, of James Monroe Bank.
* The service award, given to Mindy Williams, of Washington Gas.
* The staff service award to a chamber employee, Linda Coffey.
* The chairman’s award for the outstanding volunteer of the year to Michael Postupak.