Tenure & Tenacity
Pictured from left: Jenni Birch Szolwinski (seated), Membership Development Coordinator; Anne Petersen (seated), Administrative Coordinator & Executive Assistant to the CEO; Yasmen Brown-Jones, Director of Membership Development & Leadership 21; Ed Kiernan, Director of Finance; Brenda Bearden, Special Events; Joe Hinson, President & CEO; Kristin Bramblett (seated), Director of Special Events; Jennifer Best, Director of Marketing/PR; Karen Louder (seated), Account Executive, Membership Development; and Julie Abrams, Special Events & Marketing Coordinator.
Photo by Tracy Doyle
Few business leaders in the region have experienced the length of energetic tenure or have inspired such sustainable community impact as Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance. Approaching his 21st year with the organization this August, Hinson has much to celebrate as he and his team continue to position The Chamber Alliance as a regional leader when it comes to furthering economic and community development in the ever-growing West Chester-Liberty area.
“We’re no longer setting the bar – we are the bar,” Hinson recalls telling his staff during the first Chamber Alliance meeting of the year.
Even its name – West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance – stands apart from most other Chambers of Commerce, Hinson notes.
“We did that with purpose – we added Alliance to our name because we wanted to show collaboration and partnership.”
Indeed, that signature dynamic duo translates into a special brand of working together that constantly drives the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance to offer less-conventional activities and programs typically associated with Chambers of Commerce.
“We’re not your stereotypical Chamber, or a one-size-fits-all organization,” Hinson says.
And with good reason:
• An estimated 153,000 vehicles a-day travel through the West Chester-Liberty area along Interstate 75.
• About 54 percent of the U.S. population is located within a 600-mile radius of West Chester-Liberty.
• Roughly 56 percent of the country’s buying power is located within that same 600-mile radius.
• In a two-day drive, you can reach 80 percent of the U.S. population.
What does all of that mean?
“Well, we learned long ago that you want to be close to your customer base not only for their convenience and accessibility, but to build solid, long-lasting partnerships, as a strong, paying customer base is paramount to sustainable business success,” Hinson explains. “So, when you take a closer look at West Chester-Liberty, you see location and accessibility – we straddle one of the heaviest-traveled interstates in the country, I-75; we are between our two major markets; and we are one of four markets in the whole United States with two major airports. Add to that the fact that we have become the connector between Cincinnati and Dayton, and along with developing our two central business districts off of I-75, we’re becoming the epicenter for business – that’s a formula for success.”
When Hinson accepted the position as president of the Southeastern Butler County Chamber of Commerce just over two decades ago, the area was no where near what it is today.
“We had to be a change agent,” he recalls. “It took a good five years before we established a larger, more strategic vision for our Chamber and were able to verbalize the economic impact the West Chester-Liberty area would have on our entire region. Once we established that, and people started to see that vision come to fruition, the rest, as they say, is history.”
Hinson is not surprised he has stayed at the helm of the West Chester • Liberty Alliance as long as he has. In fact, he is humbled and proud of that longevity.
“I would be personally disappointed if I had not stayed to be part of the team to see this opportunity through,” he says. “We’re not even close to where we can be as a more inclusive Chamber of Commerce, and along with other business and community leaders, we’ve put a lot of hard work and time into the development of this area. We still have a lot to do – our job is not done.”
Hinson’s favorite business management guru, the late Peter Drucker, was often quoted as saying, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
“We’ve created our future every day since the beginning,” Hinson adds.
Today, the West Chester • Liberty Chamber Alliance is a 750+ member organization – with 11 paid employees. The group puts on more than 100 events each year, each very well attended.
“The number of members that support us through sponsorships and who attend our events indicates a strong return on investment for our members and, in turn, it’s an indicator of the type of job we’re doing,” Hinson notes.
A Strategic North Star
“I am lucky enough to be one of the people who has worked with Joe since he started at the Chamber,” says Amy Waldbillig, vice president of Workforce Development at Cincinnati State, and a former chair of The Chamber Alliance Board of Directors. “I’ve seen the whole evolution of the area, and there is so much to see. One of the things that has always impressed me about Joe is his relentless focus on continuous improvement, and that has been consistent since the first day he walked in. And that’s been possible through him building an amazing team. He’s been kind of a strategic North Star at all times, always serving the business community in the best way possible to maximize our growth corridor.”
Patti Alderson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of West Chester-Liberty and founder of the Community Foundation of West Chester-Liberty, remembers when the area consisted of very little save for a Stuckey’s and a Todd’s Sunoco gas station.
“Joe’s been a good guy; he’s a visionary,” she says. “When he started here back in the 90s, he was just given the job of restarting our Chamber. It was all up to him. A small group of businessmen were ready to help him. He had the vision that he was going to grow the organization and the community and grow them all the way. I think when you have a vision like that, and you’re Joe Hinson, you make it work.
“He didn’t do it as a loner,” she adds. “He did it by bringing people together, drawing people in. And he worked hard, talking to many, many people about how they envisioned what the two communities would look like. He never gave up and he continued to bring in more people, and together they’ve figured out how to turn the operation into what it is today. He’s been the goodwill ambassador to our communities; the maestro.”
Economic development can be a bit of a roller coaster, and Hinson and The Chamber Alliance team saw the communities through some tough, turbulent economic times, including the recession. Clearly, Hinson’s tenure and tenacity helped everyone hang on for the ride.
“What we’re looking for is sustainability and the vision to create what’s next,” Hinson says.
For example, The Chamber Alliance’s annual Regional Business Expo, which has enjoyed many successful years at Skatetown USA, will be held at Lakota West High School this year. The new venue will offer the event more space for expansion, a facility that is located in West Chester’s Central Business District, and will provide The Chamber Alliance the opportunity to partner with an education leader that is creating the cutting edge of education/business partnerships in Ohio.
“Our motto is, ‘bringing business and education together.’ So, pairing The Chamber Alliance – our region’s go-to organization for business connections – with our area’s education leader – the progressive Lakota School District – at the epicenter for business activity between Cincinnati and Dayton along 1-75 is an outstanding opportunity,” Hinson notes. Business exhibitors and other Expo attendees will not only have a chance to connect with a wide range of businesses in the region, but to become more educated and informed about the area’s continuous growth and development.
“We’ve had five of our team members retire recently from The Chamber Alliance, which is highly unusual for an organization like a Chamber of Commerce,” Hinson points out. “We had tenured professionals who were passionate about The Chamber Alliance, made a significant impact, and now they’ve moved on with the next stage of their lives.
“We’ve brought in a new team of professionals with high energy, a commitment to excellence and a lot of community pride. It’s who we are today. Together we are taking those next steps to make The Chamber Alliance the benchmark for member organizations, and West Chester-Liberty a great place to live, work and enjoy life!”
The West Chester-Liberty Alliance is located at 8922 Beckett Road, West Chester Township, OH 45069. For more information, visit www.thechamberalliance.com