Who is TraverseCONNECT helping?

By Doug Luciani

A few months back the Traverse City Business News published a story about the new TraverseCONNECT brand here at the Traverse City Area Chamber. It’s been slowly rolled out over the past year to reflect the economic development, business financing and other initiatives here not typically associated with traditional functions of a chamber of commerce.

Folks seem to get it. The Traverse City Area Chamber remains a membership-first organization committed to helping member businesses grow through events, educational programs, leadership development initiatives, special recognition and promotional efforts, liaison and advocacy work, networking opportunities and the like. TraverseCONNECT includes those Chamber functions, but spreads the brand across those other initiatives as the enterprise evolves to a regional economic development organization.

Branding is important to help people understand what an operation does. But good branding is only the start of a process. Once beyond graphics and slogans, a brand is only as strong as the satisfaction level of the people and organizations it touches.

So who are the people and organizations impacted by TraverseCONNECT? It’s people like Sarah Landry, a Leelanau County businesswoman who reached for a business loan to open a small café/coffee shop inside a downtown Leland bookstore. The economic development arm of TraverseCONNECT helped her build on the success of The Redheads food company launched by Landry and her sister in Lake Leelanau, and provide a second location to sell their locally made, high-quality food products. She’s among more than 30 area business owners that have secured business financing totaling nearly $1 million. They also get critical business planning and operational expertise from partners such as SCORE, the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Northern Initiatives to help ensure long-term success.

“(TraverseCONNECT) has been great at connecting these businesses with the resources they need,” Landry said. “It’s also another great networking piece for us.”

Nic and Jen Welty own 9 Bean Rows. The couple secured financing to launch a popular new restaurant in downtown Suttons Bay last year featuring products from their community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Its success helped them expand this year to a bakery and farm market just west of the village. The Weltys more than doubled their small workforce this past year, and added six-figure growth to their business.

“It’s really taken off this year because of the doors that (TraverseCONNECT) opened up for us,” Nic Welty said. “Next year we’ll have even more expansion going on.”

It’s also folks like Steve Nance and his crew at Oryana Natural Foods, the 2014 Small Business of the Year for the Chamber, or young brothers Dakota and Garrett Porter who received a small business loan to expand their sporting goods lighting accessory business in Acme. Small businesses throughout the state benefited from efforts to secure approval of Proposal 1 by Michigan voters to eliminate the pesky Personal Property Tax on small businesses.

So that’s what TraverseCONNECT is really all about. It’s about helping people reach their business goals and dreams while strengthening the business base of the community. Bold graphics and snappy taglines aside, there’s really only one true measure of a successful brand – and that’s to meet and exceed the expectations of its customers.

Doug Luciani is President & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him by email at luciani@tcchamber.org