The Mobile Area Chamber's Commitment To Small Business

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Examples of how small businesses benefit from Chamber membership

Sitting at her desk, Monique Ruffin saw an e-mail sent by the Mobile Area Chamber�s small business development department that caught her attention. It was asking for a representative to go to Washington D.C. to tell a U.S. congressional committee how their company was affected by Hurricane Katrina and ultimately help determine how the federal government can increase local small business participation within communities declared as major disaster areas.

Ruffin owns Bay Security, providing armed and unarmed guards for area businesses, and a janitorial service. She said that one e-mail she was glad she read. She immediately picked up the phone and volunteered. I would never have had the opportunity to voice my opinion on my own,� said Ruffin. I've been successful in the private sector and the public sector. I want to be successful in the government sector.

Bay Security suffered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as did its clients. One of the company�s clients, The Museum of Mobile, was closed for six months following the storm.

The media coverage that followed her testimony helped build awareness for her companies, Ruffin said. I made a connection with key people who have an interest in this area, said Ruffin. But that�s not the only benefit she believes she receives from being associated with the Chamber.

Running two businesses leaves little time to attend match-making events, reads the Business View Weekly (a weekly electronic supplement to The Business View) and studies the quarterly mailings packed with offers and information from member companies. From a flyer in a recent mailing, she called on another small business, SIPCO, to produce her marketing brochure. I hired them because they were Chamber members and the result was excellent, she said.

Membership Equals Business Bob Donlon and his wife, Buffy own one of Mobile's landmark restaurants in Downtown Mobile - Wintzell's Oyster House, and four other Wintzell's locations. Since the couple purchased the restaurant in 2000, they expanded to locations in West Mobile, Fairhope, Saraland and Dog River.

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Dog River site on Dauphin Island Parkway, Donlon credits Chamber staff member Walter Underwood, director of small business development, with giving him the opportunity to apply for a U.S. Small Business Administrative loan that is in the final stages of approval.

But Donlon saw the value of his Chamber membership before that. He and his son-in-law, Bob Omainsky, a former regional manager for Cracker Barrel who manages the business, have also talked with Underwood about how to move the company into franchising. Donlon also likes to host the Chamber's events for Chamber Chase, the annual resource development campaign, and Business After Hours, the monthly networking gathering.

When someone comes to Business After Hours, we have a chance to get them back, said Donlon. Donlon also attends the Chamber's forum for small business owners and managers, Executive Roundtable, and has participated in one of the Chamber�s trade missions to Cuba.

Global Business for Mobile The Chamber's trade missions and trade divisions are where entrepreneur Ray Miller finds his greatest value. He and his partner, Earl Hollingshead, formed Northern Gulf Trading Group to promote American Products. In addition to direct International sales, the company provides a variety of services that help get U.S. products into the global marketplace including research and planning, logistical services and translation services.

The Chamber has been unbelievable in pushing, encouraging and testing our commitment, said Miller. Through the mentoring of Tony van Aken (the Chamber's director of international trade) we have gained a lot of confidence.

Confidence that has matured into clients in four states including Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Three small businesses, three entrepreneurs, several different benefits.

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Wintzell's Oyster House
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Mobile, AL

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