After a tumultuous year of transition for the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, its new leadership team is working to redefine the origination’s role in the community and in the minds and hearts of its members and future members.
Executive Director Greg Mills and Assistant Director Danielle Hayden have joined forces to create a dynamic force to be visible and build credibility with the business community.
“My job, and what I think my skill set is, I facilitate,” Mills said during an interview with Oswego County Today. “I bring people together, I bring conversations forward.”
Mills was brought on by the Chamber’s Board of Directors in October after a six-month search to replace previous Executive Director Beth Hilton.
“This is a new start,” Mills said. “So hopefully when people look at that … human nature is going to say ‘why did that happen, why did you do this or why did they do that’. I’m not in a position, nor do I want to spend any time trying to define that because I can’t. I’m not the person to do that. What I am in a role to do is to work with Danielle and (administrative assistant) Lowell Hutcheson to make our organization what it can be and what it could be.”
Mills was quick to emphasize that during the transition there were people in place working to make sure the chamber moved forward.
“Under those circumstances, you’re the ‘guy in the boat’ trying to bail the water – you’re just trying to stay afloat,” the executive director said. “How do you progress, how do you move forward? I think that was really difficult. All they could focus on was, ‘We need to keep this chamber open.'”
Shortly after Mills assumed the helm, in November Hayden rejoined the chamber.
She previously worked for eight years as chamber events coordinator but left in April 2011 after accepting the position as branch director for American Red Cross.
When the Red Cross announced three-and-a-half years later, in October 2014, that it was dissolving the branch director job, another door opened for Hayden.
“For me, that was a blessing,” Mills said. “To have somebody with the experience in the community, the experience in the chamber, the recognition in the community. We have a brand new team.”
Now Mills and Hayden together strive to bring back a vitality to the chamber for its members and the community, but the duo said in some ways how to accomplish that task is not easy.
“We don’t always know what that is. We need to ask,” Mills said. “And that’s where visibility and presence and credibility come in to it. We go out there and ask the questions.”
Hayden added that this fresh start is like a blank slate which gives her the opportunity to re-write the rules of engagement and get more personal.
“Instead of just saying, ‘Hey, this is who we are, let us know what you need, see ya later,’ we’re in a position now where I think we need to go out and meet with people, tour their facilities, find out more about them, get an idea of what their favorite color is,” Hayden said.
The directors’ current action plan is to go into the field, meet people, and learn what the organization should be doing to foster good business health in the community, and they expect to accomplish that by working to establish trust through visibility and engagement.
Having worked in the area for so long, Mills – who sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve – noted that he has observed and worked with many people who are afraid to talk about their struggles and afraid to ask for help.
“People open up because I open up. You build this trust,” he said through teary eyes. “By having that conversation they trust you.”
“We want to meet people but we can only meet them if we go out and introduce ourselves,” the executive director added. “They’re not going to come in and say, ‘Hey, who are you?'”
And Mills and Hayden both said they plan to better define the organization’s existing members.
“What’s their motivation, incentive, reasoning?” Mills said. “And if we haven’t identified ourselves as that partner already, that’s what we need to do. We need to redefine how people see us.”
Hayden noted some of the programs the Chamber used to facilitate like the After-Hours Perc Club and Brown Bag Lunch speakers.
“When we were over across from Pathfinder Bank we used to have great brown bag lunches,” Hayden added.”We had speakers and people would just fill the room. I think that people really enjoyed that but is it something we want to bring back?”
The dynamic of a putting people together in a room is never predictable, Hayden noted.
“It’s nice to see people come to events where you’ve got something trying to grow. In a room full of people suddenly ideas begin to grow,” she said.
She recalled a recent meeting for the Children’s Museum. “One person said, I’d like to bring in fingerprinting for the kids, and I turned around and two guys from the Oswego Police Department were there, and then they’re talking with the organizers, ‘Let’s work together, let’s collaborate.'”
“Even those small networking events we have are important,” Hayden said.
Mills and Hayden can be reached at Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, 44 E. Bridge St., Oswego, 343-7681, or online at http://oswegofultonchamber.com/