Action Figure: TC Chamber’s Max Anderson reflects on first year as executive director

Max Anderson loves people and he loves Traverse City, traits that are serving him well as he closes in on his first year as executive director of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I don’t believe in strangers, just friends I haven’t met yet,” Anderson said, noting he knew he was a fit after reading the job description calling for someone who would help the chamber become as personal as possible with its members.

Action has reflected attitude. Anderson’s inaugural year has been marked by an increased chamber focus on members, partnerships and the member experience as well as building a greater spirit of collaboration among community partners.

“My priorities were pretty clear: to make the chamber a more personal experience for our membership, to learn the chamber business and become a true chamber professional, and to be relentlessly positive and build the relevance of the chamber,” he said.

Highlights have included launching a new professional development series, reshaping the Young Professionals program and launching the new website.

“The biggest highlight has been working with and getting to know the members,” he said. “I’m always amazed at how much I learn from them.”

A Suttons Bay native, Anderson joined the chamber in January 2017. Previous jobs included membership relations manager at Fifth Third Bank in Traverse City and a Fifth Third branch manager in Petoskey.
While learning the ropes, Anderson notes his passion for his field has grown.

“I’ve found that I enjoy navigating the challenging waters of local and state politics as well as bringing new members into the chamber family,” Anderson said. “This industry also requires great strategy and nuance. I’ve come to greatly enjoy that challenge.”

The member experience and member feedback have guided much during 2017. Programming has expanded with more robust and affordable professional development options like the recent Extreme Communication workshop held in October as well as new gatherings like Good Morning Traverse City.

A new communications plan was developed during the past year which Anderson feels will help the chamber meet its promise of being as personal as possible.

“Membership is the most important part of what we do … it’s everybody’s job,” he said.

The Young Professionals (YP) program will change to reflect current needs and feedback, aligning with the chamber’s goals to be nimble and relevant.

“We are in the process of rebranding the program into something more in line with the goals and strategies of our region’s YPs,” he said. “We want the program, along with its title, to speak to the driving principles and numerous challenges that YPs face when trying to move, live, work, and play here.”

They also removed the age restriction.

“[I]t was clear that we were losing good people and leaders,” he said. “Just because you’ve turned 40 doesn’t mean that your leadership or opinion isn’t relevant.”

Anderson said overarching YP concerns are affordable housing, quality and affordable early childhood care, and having the opportunity to learn and grow in the community.

Looking forward to 2018, Anderson said YPs potential impact is promising.

“I’m excited to see what our young professionals have in store,” Anderson said. “Together, we have positioned them to realize their great potential both for attracting more YP’s and having an impact in our community through the relationships built and connections made through the program.”

Anderson is also looking forward to continued growth of the new professional development series in 2018 as well as more heavily engaging with other business sectors, especially manufacturing and agriculture.


Other highlights to watch for:
• The arts and culture sector will be engaged to help attract and retain talent to the region through a Creative Chambers grant, funded by the Michigan Film & Digital Media office. Focus groups and early work was begun during fall 2017, but momentum will pick up in early 2018.

• Area youth will be exposed to different areas of business through the STEM Exploring program, a partnership with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Newton’s Road and many local businesses. The project marks early steps in a long-term solution to address the region’s talent shortage.

• Longstanding endeavors like the annual business expo may be modified to improve efficiency and profitability for participating businesses. One idea is to incorporate a Michigan Economic Development Corporation-style matchmaking summit into a format where businesses and consumers are paired in a targeted fashion.

• Kevin Schlueter, CEO of Kalkaska Screw Products, will take over as the 2018 chamber board chair. He succeeds Bonnie Alfonso, president and CEO of Alfie Logo Wear.

• Anderson will continue his own professional development along with chamber and association colleagues from across the country through the Institute for Organization Management.