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Mark Nix was announced as chairman of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Nix is president & CEO of Infirmary Health System. Below is the speech he gave during the Chamber’s annual meeting.
This is an exciting journey we’re about to head down, and I appreciate all of you here tonight supporting and investing in the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
Foremost – what stands out about the year ahead of us involves our organization – our staff, our board and our members embracing change. Our membership is changing every day, and we walk a fine line between preserving some of the tried-and-true traditions such as this annual meeting – and introducing new ways to engage our business community that are vastly different than what we’ve done in the past. We must begin tapping into the talents of our young professionals and our next generation of leaders and decision makers.
This Chamber has done a tremendous job in recent years of diversifying its leadership with an increased emphasis on younger leaders. Two such examples include Frank Lott, our outgoing Chairman and Liz Damson Freeman this year’s Chair-Elect and my successor as Chamber Chair in 2017. These two individuals are as engaged and enthusiastic about Mobile’s future as anyone I know, and they are just some of the many reasons I think we are heading into an evolutionary period for our region – One with unlimited potential for the coming year and beyond. Here are just a couple of examples:
First – Innovation PortAL. You’ve heard Frank, and Bill speak tonight of the transformation of St. Louis Street and we want to make sure the Chamber has a presence there – right in the middle of the action. What you may not know is – that for more than a year – Frank, Bill and a group of young professionals have been meeting regularly creating this project, soliciting funding and grant opportunities and developing a long-range plan to engage budding entrepreneurs with existing manufacturing industry executives. The outcome of this project will be for these two groups to share research, mentor and co-exist in a non-traditional workspace. This is all so close to reality, with the plan in place, and the location now secured. The PortAL will complement existing shared workspaces, and will not compete with the two projects now operational through Exchange 202 and The Fuse Project’s space for non-profit organization.
Secondly – We plan to do a lot of listening in 2016 from our existing and potential Chamber members. Chambers of Commerce across the globe are seeing a decline in membership, and we’ve experienced a little of this ourselves. But there doesn’t seem to be a common reason for membership drops. We’re asking the questions, “why” and “what.” Of course we want to know why any company drops its Chamber membership, but we also need to dive deeper. What does the Chamber need to be doing to retain members? What services could the Chamber add to show you more value? What do you think our position should be on key topics of governmental and community issues?
This may be an over generalization but Millennials, as a group, are not joiners of organizations. They often prefer to focus their attention on specific issues or projects. Are there issues and projects this Chamber needs to be tackling that we are either unaware of, or have not yet signed on with? We think there are and we want to hear more from you.
Our staff will be on the road this year pulling groups of people together for listening sessions. We’re also hiring one of our member firms to help us with conducting several focus groups of non-members. We expect their opinions to deliver some “a-ha” moments. If you’re called upon to participate in one of these sessions, I am asking that you accept this opportunity to give us your input.
We’ve been hosting similar meetings with the Chamber’s Board of Advisors for several years now and I think all would agree, participants come out of these sessions with a greater understanding of key issues and the pulse of Mobile’s economy. These meetings also create terrific opportunities for personal interaction and networking.
As we work to recruit new members and add additional value for our existing members, we are taking better advantage of tools designed to broaden our reach to our membership base — and beyond. Late last year we launched the Chamber’s Periscope account. Using a platform to live broadcast from a cell phone, we are taking some of our most important and timely programming – including this annual meeting – and delivering it in real time to a broader audience.
You may be sitting here wondering “why would we do that?” We believe this service provides a convenient way to keep you informed and simply becomes a value added service to all Chamber members. Small business owners continue to tell us they have a difficult time making it to the Chamber for a seminar, or – perhaps they cannot afford to attend all of our ticketed events. With this live broadcast tool, we will be able to take Chamber messages and programs outside the four walls of 451 Government Street – or a hotel ballroom and interact with an engaged group of members. Never heard of Periscope? I’d encourage you to download the app, and follow us @MobileChamber (one word). It’s also broadcast through our Twitter handle, also @MobileChamber.
It was a sincere honor when I was asked to serve as chairman of this 179-year old business organization. I have always been behind the Chamber’s efforts to support our business community but over the last several years, I’ve become more engaged with the Chamber. Through that engagement, I have had the opportunity to meet business owners, managers and employees of companies who I would have never otherwise met – and that has been inspiring. There is an incredible cross-section of businesses in our community – so much more than I ever realized- even though I had always heard the Chamber speak about our diverse economy.
In accepting this position, I decided this was my opportunity to give back to a community and an organization that has given me every opportunity to succeed in my personal and professional life. I first came to Mobile in 1981 at the seasoned age of 21 years old. Over the past 35 years I have worked as a CPA, in commercial real estate management and healthcare where I currently serve as President and CEO of Infirmary Health System. I have also served on the Boards of numerous charitable and community service organizations including nine consecutive years as Chairman of the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System.
So – I’ve had an opportunity to see many facets of our community including individuals within our community with tremendous – and often overwhelming – needs – many who rely on charitable and community service organizations for support and many of the basic needs of life. We all know we can’t continue to look to our various governmental entities to provide the financial support required by these organizations.
That’s why tonight; I’d like to issue a challenge to all Chamber-member businesses. We – as business owners, Board members, presidents, CEOs, marketing specialists, salesmen, and – leaders – should challenge our organizations to support and rally around projects and agencies that focus on serving Mobile’s neediest and those organizations that provide quality of life services throughout our community.
Taking on this challenge will not only benefit our community, but your organization and team members as well. A group of co-workers collaborating on and executing a successful community service project will bring out the best in a team. I witnessed this first-hand just a couple months ago as our team at Infirmary Health created a video and won the national Pink Glove Dance competition. In the process we raised $58,000 for our local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Although it took a tremendous amount of planning on the part of our team members to make this happen, all would agree the experience was worth so much more than the money we raised.
Your involvement will also help our community become less reliant on government and tax payer funding. It is more likely than not there will be less governmental financial support through performance contracts. Businesses can help ease some resulting financial burdens through direct support of these organizations or by encouraging and allowing volunteerism by their employees.
If you take a look at the Mobile Area Chamber’s recent and past Corporate Community Service Award winners – companies such as Roberts Brothers, Thompson Engineering, State Farm Makeda Nichols, Regions Bank, Hargrove Engineers + Constructors – you will find that all of their community service programs started with one person, and a great idea. I’ve asked the Chamber’s communications and marketing team to help share stories of local companies giving time and support, and they have agreed to use a variety of platforms to share your stories.
I’ve shared a lot of ideas in just a few minutes, and now it’s time for the real work to begin. While my time as Chairman will be short. I think that what we accomplish in 2016 will one day be looked upon as a launching pad for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
I’m excited to announce that one of those tried-and-true institutions I mentioned a few minutes ago – this annual meeting – will forever change after tonight’s event. Our 180th annual meeting will look and feel much different than what many of us are used to. We’ll be in a new location (and maybe even several locations) and the event will include a new layout and logistics.
We’ll hold the details of next year’s annual meeting for now, but rest assured the meeting will be entertaining and enjoyable for everyone.
On behalf of the Chamber’s board of directors and its outstanding staff, thank you, and join me as we get ready for 2016.