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Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce exists to serve

Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce exists to serve

In November of 2022, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce was reaccredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with a five-star rating. We are thrilled to be one of only three chambers in New York State and among the top 2% of the over seven thousand chambers across the United States to have achieved this distinction.

Our Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has existed since 1887, but to my knowledge has never been accredited by the U.S. Chamber prior to our initial accreditation in 2017. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce conducted a thorough forensic audit of our organization, specifically focusing on nine categories including: governance, finance, human resources, government affairs, program development, technology, communication, facilities and benchmarking. They also examined our community impact and contributions to the overall Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region. The process took several months to complete with each category requiring stringent and extensive documentation, as well as dozens of follow-up questions and requests from the U.S. Chamber team to seek clarification and further substantiation on the most precise details of a specific operation.

Our Greater Rochester Chamber leadership team spearheaded this intensive effort. The project manager was our chief of staff Marc Cohen.

To become accredited at any level (three, four, or five stars) is a major accomplishment. Being reaccredited is never a certainty and the U.S. Chamber team cautioned that it is often harder to be reaccredited than it is to seek initial accreditation as chambers that achieve this lofty milestone may not take the reaccreditation process as seriously as the initial try.

I am proud to say that our chamber team did not fall prey to any form of overconfidence or complacency. Greater Rochester Chamber has forty-two employees and each of them was involved with contributing to and collecting the huge amount of documentation and information outlining what our Chamber team does every single day.

We take immense pride in what we do. When our members invest in us, we want to ensure that they have a strong return on that investment, a sense of pride that this organization functions at the highest levels and that we are good stewards of their investments. An accreditation process is often a stamp of approval that the organization is well run not just from outside appearances but in every corner of their internal systems. It epitomizes the maxim “don’t just look good, be good.”

Our Chamber of Commerce has gone through several different renditions over the years. From 2005 until 2015, the former Rochester Chamber merged with the Industrial Management Council (IMC) to form the Rochester Business Alliance.

When I began my Chamber career in January of 2015, I received feedback from people in our community, as well as members of our board, that the designation was confusing. That year we began a journey to return to our roots and rebrand as Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. It was one of the best decisions that we could have made.

I am proud of the team we have developed since. We have strong leadership in all areas and a phenomenal group of frontline teammates who make us proud in terms of how they serve our members, our customers and our community. We have often used the tagline that “we are not your grandfather’s chamber.” We are also not an organization that exists solely to host Tuesday night raffles or spaghetti dinners.

We passionately serve our members in the areas of advocacy, talent, human resources, trainings, events, member support and business growth. I take pride in the fact that our members know there is nothing they can’t ask of us. And if we can’t accomplish the ask ourselves, we have the relationships to make it so.

We find ourselves in a position to solve problems, lobby and advocate at all levels of government for our members and passionately and consistently follow through on member requests. Whether it’s helping to remove a barrier to a member’s success or working to get major legislation passed or stopped, ours is not a Monday through Friday job because phones ring and emails beep at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week.

The key to our success, in addition to a very talented team and strong work ethic, is the solid relationships we have developed at all levels of government and within every sector of the community in Greater Rochester, New York State and beyond.

Those who are stuck in the old way of advocacy may expect us to have press conferences where we pound our fists, stomp up and down and hurl strong words and threats at elected officials from a podium. We don’t operate that way. And because of the emphasis we have put on building relationships and working behind the scenes to accomplish our members’ goals, we achieve actual results.

Too often we see and hear individuals and organizations spend massive amounts of time and money engaging in self-congratulatory behavior for even the smallest of accomplishments. If every phone call and every meeting consist solely of enumerating one’s “wins” such that no time exists for open discussion about where we are going as a community and what needs to be done to get there, nothing meaningful will ever be realized.

I have learned in my career and life that the best way to achieve any goal is to not worry about who gets the credit. And when you are responsible for making something happen, give others the credit.

In that spirit, when it comes down to sealing deals on businesses coming to Rochester and securing economic growth opportunities, the decision makers are our federal, state and local government leaders and they deserve our thanks. These individuals and their staffs are the ones who provide the financial assistance, tax abatements and support to make these successes happen. We always ensure that those are the leaders we thank when these deals and successes are consummated. In this region we are blessed with countless elected and appointed leaders, on both sides of the aisle, who epitomize public service and progress.

Throughout my travels visiting businesses around our region, I have heard people say that Greater Rochester Chamber exists only to help large businesses. I am proud that almost 90 percent of our membership is made up of small businesses and we fight for the business with two employees as much and as hard as we fight for the 35,000-employee member. We serve everyone with every ounce of energy and passion possible. We are laser-focused on the needs of every business, regardless of their size.

Finally, I am proud that our chamber of commerce team actively engages in community service. From 100% United Way participation to food and book drives and several other charitable efforts, we are so fortunate to have teammates who embody volunteerism. These efforts go far beyond the work hours. Our teammates are on boards and organizations throughout Rochester and are actively engaged in so many aspects of life in our region.

We are proud to be the largest and longest serving economic development organization in the Greater Rochester community and we want you to be proud of helping make that the case.  Since 1887 our mission has been to support our businesses and our community and we work every day to be true to that mission. Our founding members would be proud that what they started with their vision continues to thrive 136 years later.

We love our Chamber family and we would love to see it grow larger and stronger. Never hesitate to reach out to me or a member of our team, at any time for any purpose.

We exist to serve you.

Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at [email protected].