Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
Regina Duncan can relax now, basking in the calm after a storm of renovations to the Amelia Island-Fernandina Beach-Yulee Chamber of Commerce office.
It’s easy to get comfortable in the new surroundings. In her role as president, Duncan oversaw vast improvements to the Chamber office in the Gateway to Amelia complex, designed to be more friendly and usable to members.
And that’s Duncan’s specialty — improving conditions for businesses in and around Amelia Island and Yulee. She’s been doing it for 16 years now. The results are exemplary.
The Chamber has a healthy, active membership. Of the 700-plus members, most are small and mid-sized businesses here. Duncan’s five-person staff and 18-member board are advocates for local businesses, offering seminars and business advice and counseling.
Now the Chamber wants to do more, and be more. Aside from the typical office renovations of trendy paint colors and plush carpeting, there is now an arsenal of tools for businesses. Four large color monitors. Padded chairs with armchair desk tops, alongside tables for meetings.
There are high-quality copiers and printers and scanners. Two small offices for private one-on-one consultations. And a state-of-the-art conference room (for up to 12 people), equipped with a camera for video conferencing, a speaker phone for teleconferencing, and a monitor for Powerpoint presentations. As a bit of sweet icing, there is even a coffee/snack bar and refrigerator in the corner.
All the equipment of a mobile office. All for use of local members. At no charge. This is now a Chamber of Commerce equipped to truly meet the needs of its clientele.
“We call it the BRIC,” says Duncan (for the Business Resource Innovation Center). If you ask Duncan how the center has been received by Chamber members and the community, she smiles and replies enthusiastically, “Oh, fantastic! It is getting busier, progressively busier.”
The center meets the needs of members who work remotely or make sales calls in the field, for instance. They now have a place to drop in during business hours to get things done, or to seek out a quiet respite, or access a charging station. There is even a secure internet connection with “security layers you wouldn’t find in more public areas.”
“All you have to do is walk in here with a thumb drive and do a presentation,” Duncan says. If you call ahead to the Chamber office, between regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a staff member could even assist with your presentation. You make reservations the same way, but eventually they will be online.
Already, the Gateway to Amelia complex is a potpourri of successful businesses. Prominent local attorneys like Buddy Jacobs and Lorie Chism and Andrea Lennon have offices there, as do popular architects like Randy Rice and CPAs like Hank Hurst.
It makes sense that the Chamber office is located here, at the main entrance to Amelia Island. “This is a perfect location for us,” Duncan says. “It’s accessible to everyone.”
Duncan and her staff began toying with the BRIC idea three years ago. However, no other Chamber of Commerce offices were doing what they envisioned. So it’s been a trendsetting initiative.
“We couldn’t find anyone doing anything like we were talking about,” Duncan says. “Since then there has been a few hybrids, but nothing to the extent we’ve done here.” And it’s already being noticed by other Chamber offices in other places.
The six-month-long renovations cost more than $200,000. However, this figure was offset by monetary donations and in-kind contributions from members and from the community. Interior decorators helped choose the bright, cheerful colors in a beach theme.
Duncan envisions the BRIC helping to grow the Chamber membership. In fact, for all of November, non-members can use the space at no charge. They just need to call ahead at 904-261-3248 to do so.
In 2016, Duncan’s staff counted 26,000 visits to the Chamber office. She expects this number to climb significantly, especially among members. There is a built-in networking feature inherent to the new center, where members using the facility might run into other members, and so on.
Not only is the glitzy center bright in color, the Chamber’s future is also. This is truly a business group that listens to and addresses the needs of its members. Duncan looks like a kid in a new toy store.
“I’m excited that the community is so proud of this facility,” she says.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor with a major U.S. firm who lives on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His financial columns also appear in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia. He recently published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the last 20 years. The book is available in local stores and on Amazon.com. He can be reached by phone at 904-753-0236 or by email at [email protected]