Exciting times are ahead for the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce.

That’s the synopsis of board of directors’ president Eric Norris, who said the chamber is working in several ways to add value to its members.

Norris said the chamber is an evolving organization, with several recent major changes. Norris said the late Gib Garrow had been the figurehead of both the chamber and the Neosho Area Business and Industrial Foundation, Inc. (NABIFI), and after his death late last year, leadership in both organizations determined that each entity needed its own executive director.

“We really have two entities here, from a finance and a personnel standpoint, so both organizations came together and determined that it’s probably the best time to separate, on paper and personnel,” Norris said.

Norris said it was not a separation of visions and goals, as the chamber and NABIFI continue to partner and work together for the betterment of Neosho.

He said the chamber and the city of Neosho have forged a new relationship to further promote Neosho through activities that bring visitors to town.

“So the citywide garage sale, Dickens Christmas Faire, the cooking school and things that we’re having coming up, the city has stepped up and offered to pay for some of the marketing. At the same time,” said Norris, “we’re going to partner and help them with some of their events, like Celebrate Neosho, we’re going to collaborate on those type of activities to make them better for everybody.

Concerning economic development in the city, Norris said, “I want the chamber to be the glue.”

“We just want to rebuild that relationship and make sure that everybody knows that the city of Neosho, the city council and this chamber have a great working relationship,” he said.

Leadership of the chamber has evolved, as Shana Griffin stepped out at the end of March after more than 13 years as its executive director, and Lauri Lyerla was hired on an interim basis beginning April 1 while a national search continued for Griffin’s successor. Norris said the board voted on May 15 to hire Lyerla as the executive director, and said more changes are in the works.

“Shana Griffin did a great job for us and when you have a leader that’s been there for a long time – for 13 years – things just tend to happen year to year automatically. I think you lose an opportunity to really look at areas that you can improve your chamber,” he said.

“Lauri comes to us excited, motivated, and business as usual or the schedule as usual as our chamber seems the last couple of years is no longer how we’re going to operate. We’re going to look at everything we do, see how we can make it better and see what we can add to our activities to make it better for Neosho, but also make it better for our members. We need to motivate our membership to get more people involved with us. So with Lauri’s vision, energy and passion for the job, she’s going to bring all that and I really do think that we’ve got great years for this chamber of commerce coming up to make great changes and add value to our citizens and our members.”

Norris said members will begin to see positive changes within the chamber.

“We’ve got a lot of different businesses as members,” he said. “We’ve got mom and pop shops, one employee, sole proprietors, all the way up to 200-plus employees like a La-Z-Boy.”

Norris said the board has looked across the board to analyze “what you get for your membership fees, and right now we’re not sure that we add different values to different membership levels.”

He said the board has moved to begin a new billing system to allow monthly payment of membership dues.

“Right now, if you’re a chamber member we bill you annually,” said Norris, “and we know that sometimes that $230 annual membership for a start-up business isn’t feasible at some point.”

He said the chamber is looking to bill membership dues around added value.

 “What do you get?” he asked. “I think too many times the attitude of a chamber is, ‘It’s not what the chamber can do for you, it’s what you can get out of the chamber,’ and I want to change that atmosphere just a little bit. There are things the chamber can do to impact businesses in our membership, and so looking it at as a mutual relationship that benefits both parties — not just something that we’re going to collect dues and the members can decide what they get from it if they participate or not — we want to be able to give back and add value.”

Norris noted that the chamber website is behind times, is not user-friendly and doesn’t promote its vision, and needs a major upgrade.

“We’re looking to really be the face of Neosho,” he said. “If someone is looking for some information about Neosho, we want the chamber and our website to be that first vibe. And I think if you go to our website now, it just doesn’t do that.”

As they move forward, Norris promised that every program and activity that the chamber controls will be examined and evaluated to discover needs for expansion or improvement. He urged every member to complete a survey the chamber is sending to each, and to provide honest feedback in order for the organization to provide the value that members expect.

Norris also urged those who have lost contact with the chamber over the years, or who have felt they did not receive proper value for their membership in the past, to visit with Lyerla about her plan and about how the chamber can add to their plan to better serve them.