When Graham County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vance Bryce took over the helm last June, he wanted to send a message — they aren’t party planners.
He wanted local business owners and non-profits to know that he and marketing director Brianna Morris were there to help, to create collaborations, hook people up with resources. They never dreamed to be in the position they are now with a world-wide pandemic wreaking havoc on local businesses, let alone the world economy.
“In the age of Internet I think a lot of people thought ‘Well chambers used to be how we connected and now we have the Internet and we don’t need you,’” Bryce said. “ But I think we’ve proven our worth to a lot of folk who aren’t members during this time. We’re giving them information on the Payroll Protection Program and helping connect them — when things aren’t working — to other resources outside the county.”
They have worked hard to bring outside organizations like the Arizona Chamber Executives and Local First Arizona to the table in Graham County, he said.
“I think people are — not everyone obviously, but I think people are starting to see what it looks like to collaborate,” Bryce said. “For awhile, before us, the chamber was treated as a marketing agency and people thought ‘Oh, well if I join the chamber maybe I’ll get an ad in the paper or something online or on the radio.’ We’ve tried to change the script to say you join the chamber because you’re part of a business community and you want to give back and you want to work as a whole.”
Bryce, who is the sixth person to hold the position of executive director/interim executive director since 2013, admits there is still some mistrust within the community because of past issues.
He and Morris are working hard to overcome that by forging relationships wherever they can.
“In other places they may have had a healthy chamber for years and years that talked to their federal officials and their state and local officials and went to the meetings,” Bryce said. “When I started going to the city hall meetings in Safford and Thatcher and Pima, they were like ‘Oh, the chamber’s here. Interesting. What do you want?’ I’d say ‘Nothing. I just need to know what’s going on for our members.’ Consistently Bri and I going to all of these meetings we’ve been able to have really good relationships and leverage those during this crisis.”
The message last June and now remains the same, he said.
“We aren’t just party planners and we’re not just going to help you with advertising. It’s really a more collaboration between communities, a collaboration between non-profits and businesses. Let’s communicate at a bare minimum,” Bryce said.
Now more than ever, Bryce said there’s a tremendous need to help each other out, to collaborate.
“To ask for help isn’t weakness. We’ve had to ask for for a lot of help as a chamber so we all need each other. don’t be quiet about help you need, come in and we’ll help businesses, non profits, whomever,” Bryce said. “Even if we don’t know the answer, we may be able to connect them with someone. We can only do this together even when we’re separate.”