CBICC Looks to Organization’s Future; New Leadership Seeks Wider Influence in Community
The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County is moving into the future with confidence and new leadership that will seek ways to develop more community partnerships and expand its reach into the communities it serves.
According to Vern Squier, the president and CEO of the CBICC, and Dave Capperella, board chair, the organization has outlined a plan that includes intensifying its economic development efforts as well as being proactive in representing the business community’s interests.
Squier, who recently assumed leadership of the CBICC, formerly worked as the Senior Vice President of the Overland Park, Kansas, Chamber of Commerce where he was also responsible for economic development. Squier has taken steps to ensure that the CBICC remains on solid economic footing, including trimming the staff.
The Gazette recently met with Squier and Capperella to outline their plans for the CBICC for the coming year. The interview was edited for clarity.
Gazette: What are the major strengths of the CBICC at this time?
Squier: Volunteerism that manifests itself in many ways. I am impressed with the level of service, commitment and positive outlook for the community and its future. From its ambassadors to committees to events, this chamber excels.
Capperella: I agree. The membership and participation is exceptional. People enjoy the events.
Squier: They genuinely care about being there. I would also say that the composition of the organization is a strength. We have an array of entities including traditional chamber activities and economic development. Our ability to work with our partners, including Penn State and the Ben Franklin Partnership is important. We are a cornerstone partner of the Techcelerator.
Gazette: What are the CBICC’s major goals for 2012 and beyond?
Capperella: We’re looking at a collaborative effort to nurture our own new businesses. It’s an effort to provide a higher level of service – a better product. We are putting the clients and customers first. This is a new direction for the CBICC.
Squier: The CBICC’s efforts are like a three-legged stool. We need to grow our own businesses, retain and expand what we have, and recruit new business opportunities. We want to expand job creation and increase wealth creation to reverberate throughout the economy.
Capperella: I sense that we have an enhanced level of excitement in our staff. There’s a new energy. The folks here are excited about the new direction.
Squier: The multiplex nature of the organization is a strength. In addition, we want to be an opinion generator rather than just a monitor of government. We want to do more than react to government actions.
Capperella: There is now a commitment from the CBICC that we will take on issues.
Gazette: Can you talk a little more about the goals for 2012?
Capperella: One goal we established as a board is that it is important to get Vern out to meet as many people as we can. He’s done a tremendous amount of work to reach out to collaborate with many other groups. We are well on our way. Vern would like to convene a town hall meeting of all municipal leaders.
Squier: The purpose of the meeting would be to discuss economic development and get people involved, on our team, those who want to be involved. If we can assemble a strong team, then our recruitment stands a better chance of success. Across the country, well balanced programs have more success attracting businesses.
Capperella: Business recruitment was a leading component of our search criteria. We found that outside of Pennsylvania, people were doing it well, and differently than we were.
Squier: We have a healthy, organic economy here, one grown from within. We need a well-oiled machine to close the deal (on recruitment efforts). It starts with a sense of need and urgency.
Gazette: What are the greatest challenges facing the organization in the months and years ahead?
Squier: To begin with, the national economy. While our economy has been generally healthy, we still have to manage our way through the national. We want to be an extraordinary organization, especially in economic development. We want to steer the course, not be steered by it.
Capperella: We will ask, “What’s the bold thing to be done? What’s the right thing?”
Squier: More than 20 states have the tools we need. Pennsylvania needs to take a look at these options. The state needs to stay competitive without just writing a check. We cannot compete with states like Virginia and North Carolina, for example.
Gazette: Has membership in the CBICC been maintained?
Squier: Since 2008 many chambers across the nation have struggled with retention. Our retention rate is better than most, which speaks to the loyalty of the membership. We want to increase membership, see we’ve created new levels of membership. We call the levels Success Partners and Community Building Partners.
Gazette: How is the organization doing financially?
Capperella: We have seen a decline in our incubator rentals and we are looking for more traditional funding streams. Our dues structure is low on a national scale. But we didn’t think it was smart to have a big dues increase, so we created optional memberships.
Gazette: How about lots in Penn Eagle Industrial Park and the Benner Commerce Park?
Capperella: There are only two lots left in Penn Eagle. We’ll help market any site in the county.
Squier: We want to do a better job living up to our name and serve all of Centre County.
Capperella: We all need to be on the same page. There are a lot of reasons for a business to come here.
Squier: Land ownership is not a bad thing. It’s the foundation of Pennsylvania’s economic development. But it’s not the end game.