The same can be said for businesses. Each business, large or small, is a vital part of its surrounding community, employing residents and contributing to the local economy. And because each business is part of this larger community web, partnerships and alliances are essential to a business' success.
That's where Michael Fisher comes in. As head of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Fisher's job is to be the partner of every Cincinnati business, ensuring they're connected and growing strong.
"One of my principle roles," says Fisher, "is to be an ambassador for the chamber, but also to be a place where business leaders can share the ideas they have and the issues/concerns they have."
When major issues arise, he and the chamber help businesses tackle them. Two strong initiatives Fisher has led are the Cincinnati USA Partnership, a campaign to draw the attention of business leaders and investors to the area, and the Minority Business Accelerator program, designed to grow and maintain Cincinnati's minority business community.
But Fisher still has more to do to keep Cincinnati on track to becoming a strong, healthy business community. Smart Business spoke with him about how he's helping drive the region's business growth.
How do you and the chamber help facilitate business growth within the region?
Some of the programs and services we provide member companies -- whether that's bottom-line benefit programs like our workers' compensation program or health insurance offerings or even our office supply program with Office Depot -- those are things that help lower costs, which help them overall from a profitability standpoint.
From a programmatic standpoint, we do things like our strategic planning program with Partners in Change, called Strategic 8.4. It's a pretty disciplined approach to helping companies take a look at their markets, competitive strengths and weaknesses, figure out exactly what's the path to grow their business and put in the business disciplines to do that. We also offer CEO roundtables, which get the leaders of small to mid-sized businesses together with their peers in small groups.
We have an effort called the Cincinnati USA Partnership that brings together investors from both the public and business sectors to pool resources and market this region nationally and globally to attract companies here. We're about filling the pipeline. We're out at the trade shows.
We're working with site selection consultants from around the country and around the world. We're working with PR firms in Japan, France, Germany and other places that have had a strong tradition of investing in the Greater Cincinnati area. That's part of how we facilitate growth - this collaborative dimension of the investor group for this Cincinnati USA Partnership, bringing together public-sector investors who all see some value, and I'm talking about the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, the cities of Mason and Fairfield and Blue Ash, and the three northern Kentucky counties, and on and on, all pooling their efforts to help market our region.
How successful has that partnership been?
There are lots of ways to measure that, but I think it's been very successful. Just the fact that we are able to get the private and public sector to come together to champion this region's strengths, that's successful. This is the beginning of the fifth five-year cycle that we've done this, and we now have roughly 100 Japanese-owned firms in our region. Part of that that comes from the marketing efforts.
If you look at it in financial terms, this current five-year cycle that we just kicked off in 2004, we will have raised nearly $22.5 million for our various economic development and partnership activities, so we're just at about 98 percent of the goal that we had set out.
If you look at some of the other initiatives we are funding, (such as a) minority business accelerator, which is about tapping into the demand on Corporate America's side for a more diverse supplier base and leveraging the growing strengths of minority businesses in our community, we think that initiative is starting to get some traction. This year, we've helped facilitate six or seven joint ventures and/or acquisitions of size with minority businesses, and a number of sizeable customer contracts with big companies on behalf of our minority businesses.
What metrics are you using to measure the success not only of these things, but also of becoming a Favorite American City by your goal of 2007?
For us to be perceived as one of the favorite American business centers, others have to say it's so. This year, for example, we were named as one of America's most livable communities by Partners for Livable Communities. We were rated as one of the top 10 metro areas for new and expanded facilities by Site Selection magazine.
When Esquire says you're one of the top 10 cities that rock, or American Style magazine says you're one of the top five arts destinations, those are the ways we start to gauge whether, in fact, we're becoming one of America's favorite business centers -- when third parties validate it.
Beyond that, we have some notions about what we're aiming for over the next few years -- everything from retaining and growing the number of Fortune 1000 headquartered companies to the wage and capital investment rates in our region exceeding the national averages, so that the new jobs created are at a higher wage rate than the national average.
And, with regard to the minority business accelerator and our other growth initiative, Cincy Tech USA, which is about helping regionally based tech companies develop and grow -- as we look at metrics over the long term, in the context of this becoming one of the world's favorite business centers, in those cases we're looking at the number of companies that get to certain size thresholds, we're looking at job growth, those kinds of metrics relative to minority business and technology businesses.
You mentioned CEO roundtables, but how else do you personally reach out and get CEOs involved?
I try to get out in lots of ways and visit with them. I go out and see business leaders. I (also) reference my own personal involvement with YPO (Young Presidents Organization). And, there's my own involvement in a number of civic and business organization boards. But I make a lot of pointed visits.
When we kick-start some of these initiatives that I've talked about, I go out and personally ask people to get involved.
This most recent cycle, we have created something called Team 100. Team 100 is targeted at entrepreneurs, trying to encourage them to become investors in this region's economic health and future by becoming investors at the $10,000 per year level.
We've recruited 10 or 12 of their peers as sort of our volunteer leadership team for that. It's spearheaded by a very successful entrepreneur, a guy named Dave Hershey, and another entrepreneur who's been an example of one of those successful minority joint ventures, Scott Robertson (owner of Globe Business Interiors Inc.). We'll go out and ask these people (the entrepreneurs) what's important to them, what they think are the needs and opportunities, not only for their own business but for the whole region's economy.
Then we try to match up some of their interests and passion around things we believe will be good for moving the economy forward.
What would you say your most difficult challenge is in managing the chamber?
The important challenge is continuing to work on and find ways to help bring together the entire region to compete in this global economy. As I said, we've got three states, 15 counties, and it's easy for those things to get in the way of remembering that what we're all about is trying to bring more job growth and more economic success for our region's citizens.
We need to keep working hard at bri nging everyone together and taking advantage of the amazing range of assets we have throughout the region.
The other thing is just continuing to help people have a positive self-image of our community. We do have enormous strengths -- whether that's a world-class airport, outstanding colleges and universities, great work forces, Fortune 1000 companies, dynamic entrepreneurial community, great arts, beautiful parks and a great location.
A third one for me, just in a leadership and management role, is managing through the potential for what I call issue fatigue. Not only me, but if I think about how fortunate we are to have so many businesspeople and civic leaders engaged in helping make the community better, just keep in mind that it really is a continuous improvement mindset that we have to keep front and center.
And, while we will have issues to work on, whether those are in the arena of health care or tax reform or physical infrastructure, whatever those are, we just need to keep working diligently on them and not let them collectively overwhelm our passion and desire to keep moving forward.
What are the most critical issues facing Cincinnati's business economy?
This notion of coming together to compete as a region and leveraging the assets and strengths we have. We need to do that as we help continue to transform this region's diverse and historically successful economy to a new economy region.
Second, continuing to make progress on the inclusiveness of our economy, whether that's for minority businesses or young professionals or immigrants or creative class types. That in an era where recruiting and retaining and unleashing top talent is the name of the game, this notion of our region continuing to make progress on a spirit of inclusiveness is awfully important.
Third, to continue to become more globally savvy, particularly our small and mid-market companies. We are exploring the idea of this year taking a group of business leaders on a business development trip to China. There are lots of ways to tap into the opportunities, as well as the competitive challenges of the global economy. It's part of what's important to the continued progress of our region's economy, especially for the small to mid-sized companies.
Finally, this is a 165-year-old organization, the chamber, so how do you take advantage of those historic strengths and the credibility and reach it has. From a managerial standpoint, that's really what I put a lot of time and energy into.
We've been able to introduce a range of business tools and disciplines in how we manage our own business -- everything from a balanced scorecard to clear definitions around our purpose and mission statement and values, our strategy goals.
We have been students of Jim Collins' work from "Beyond Entrepreneurship" through "Good to Great." We have tried to bring in some of those disciplines to our approach. We've put some of those tools in place as we've become even more of a performance culture with the big hearts of the community.
How to reach: Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, (513) 579-3100 or www.gccc.com