How many of us use the @ symbol every day in our business or personal communications? Just about everyone, right? The symbol’s first documented use was by wine merchant Francesco Lapi in 1536, to designate unit shipments, called amphorae. The first typewriters in the mid-1800s didn’t include the @ symbol, and the first punch-card tabulating systems, the precursors to computer programming, didn’t include it, either.

Thank computer scientist Ray Tomlinson for rescuing the @ symbol from near oblivion when he used it to connect computer users with one another in developing Arpanet — the forerunner of the Internet. He needed a symbol that wasn’t used much, and the @ symbol fit the bill.

Say the words “chamber of commerce” to people and some think it’s a government entity, while others think it’s a place only for maps and a welcome to the community, and others think of an archaic organization that’s neither relevant nor current.

Let’s put the words “chamber of commerce” back into your everyday language, so that you might use it regularly, just as you do the @ symbol.

Here are five reasons to use the “Business Resources Information Bank,” which is really another name for a chamber of commerce.

  1. Information Curators: The Internet has truly changed everything, with Google now a verb and the World Wide Web a vast repository of more information than you can imagine. Today’s count is a mere 4.72 billion web pages. Your chamber should be the “refinery” to collect pages and information that are relevant to your business, institution or organization, providing easy access to save time and money. It then pushes this information to its members, giving them real-time information that they may not have known was available.
  2. Kill the Gym Membership Analogy: Time is the currency of our day, and no one ever has enough of it. Quite often you will hear, “If you join the chamber, it’s like your gym membership: You’ll only get out of it what you put into it.” True, personal involvement can bring tremendous rewards, but you can benefit greatly from chamber membership without ever attending a single event. Some Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC)members are happy to receive their general information, savings on their commercial and personal electric and natural gas utilities, and their Office Depot national discount program for businesses and their employees. What you are looking for as a return on investment determines the value of your chamber membership. Personal involvement may not be part of the equation.
  3. On-Call Consultants: Between 1936 and 1957, Albert Carlyle Mitchell was The Answer Man on a nationally syndicated television program that drew as many as a million questions each year. While the BWCC doesn’t receive that many questions, it does receive a wide array of inquiries. In fact, its staff hopes that members will think to call the BWCC with their questions. Who would call the chamber to ask if it could assist in helping develop an invitation list for a party to welcome the person being named as ambassador to the Netherlands? Or a call to help transport two Sandhill cranes to Russia to help save the endangered Siberian crane? These are but two inquiries that led to phenomenal events. What question(s) have you not asked of your chamber? Why would the chamber even have connections with Holland or wildlife research? By the way, has your sales force been briefed by the BWCC so they can provide unique assistance to your clients using the BWCC’s information resources?
  4. Canary in a Coal Mine: While the expression is vivid and historically correct (the birds could detect traces of methane and carbon monoxide in unventilated mine seams), today it is not politically correct, for certain. But legislation is often like that — proposals are made in legislature that can have a profound impact on your bottom line — and you may not even know it’s being proffered. That’s where the chamber is your canary — detecting these measures and providing information both to legislators and to the business community about potential impacts. If not for the chamber and its relationships with the state chamber and scores of professional lobbyists, who would be your eyes and ears?
  5. Network Building, Internally & Externally: Many companies or organizations have multiple generations in the workforce. Just as you want to build internal networks linking generations, workplace responsibilities and other things, similarly you may want to build multiple networks externally as well. Take the time to learn what activities and programs exist within the BWCC for which your employees can develop their skill sets by learning from peers. Is there a recent political science grad who wants to help the company stay abreast of legislative developments and make contacts with state leaders? Consider having him participate in the BWCC’s Legislative Committee and attend a Monday afternoon legislative session in Annapolis with 50 of the state’s leading lobbyists. Do you have an engineer with a passion for developing the next generation of professionals? Have her link with the BWCC Foundation and the statewide math conference, providing real-world examples of math in the workplace. It fits in perfectly with what Aaron Hurst describes in his book, The Purpose Economy: in short, doing well and doing good at the same time.

The BWCC is truly a unique organization that deals deftly with a variety of issues in the mid-Maryland marketplace. Its job is made more challenging by dealing with multiple local jurisdictions as well as state and national issues. But the reality is that it is uniquely positioned to serve its members in this, the heart of America’s fourth largest marketplace.

It is your Business Resource Information Bank, but you can call it a “chamber of commerce,” too.