Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce redefining its role

TUPPER LAKE – The Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce is working hard to redefine its role.

At a first-ever Winter Social at The Wild Center on Friday night, chamber President Adam Boudreau highlighted some of the changes that are on the horizon for Tupper Lake and the chamber. The event was attended by more than 100 people from the community and by members of the town, village and school boards.

“Our chamber of commerce has been in a difficult position for a number of years now,” Boudreau told the crowd. “The reasoning is simple: We wore many hats. Over the years, we found ourselves responsible for marketing our municipality, a tourism bureau for the area and an event engine. We didn’t have the funding or manpower to deliver on these fronts. While struggling under the weight of this burden, we also became a catch-all for every unfunded occasion, drive and social action. It overwhelmed the organization and the volunteers. A need for change was evident.”

Boudreau explained that change revolves around a shift in perspective that asks what the chamber could be instead of asking what it is.

The first step in that process is to hire an outside agency to develop a tourism development strategy for Tupper Lake, which would allow the chamber more time to focus on its members. Last month, the Tupper Lake town and village boards put that step in motion when they both unanimously agreed to seek proposals for a marketing plan.

The RFP is open to anyone, but the chamber board favors the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism because of the destination planning it has done throughout the region.

“Destination planning is out of our realm of expertise,” Boudreau told the Enterprise. “If you involve someone like ROOST, they have the ability to outline the things we need to work on and the things we’re doing well, and when you can go through that with an organization that’s done that before and really highlight what you need to work on, a lot of it’s going to be tourism infrastructure.”

Attracting tourists has been a major talking point throughout the region, but each community must have the necessary infrastructure to host visitors once they arrive. Boudreau said he would like the chamber to be a part of that conversation by supporting local businesses and networking with other North Country chambers to form a regional relationship.

“We need to create a blueprint for our political leaders, our business leaders and the community at large to take stock in what we have and develop a plan for the future,” Boudreau said. “A cohesive, viable strategy focused on improving tourism infrastructure and attraction value encourages an increase in visitors, leverages private investment and ultimately improves the quality of life for full-time residents.”

Boudreau said partnering with an agency like ROOST could increase the likelihood of receiving priority status when applying for North Country Regional Economic Development Council grants.

“The Hotel Saranac and Lake Flower Lodging can give you about 7.2 million reasons why that process works,” Boudreau said. “The point is, we need to show that a plan is in place and that we have the right political climate, regional cooperation and community involvement to succeed.”

Boudreau listed a number of initiatives the chamber will move forward on that are conducive, but not directly related to, destination marketing. They included the development of a state-of-the-art website that will work on tablets and smart phones; creation of a recreation guide for the Tupper Lake region that includes locations for hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, swimming, paddling and mountain biking; a reinvestment and focus on major chamber events; and an expansion of networking and training opportunities for chamber members.

Boudreau called the last item on the list “chamber after hours,” and said it cuts to the core of the role the chamber should serve.

“Every three months we’ll go to a different member business, have a networking event and have all the other member businesses in town show up and share information,” Boudreau said, adding that the chamber would also hold destination-minded workshops to train business owners and their employees how to better serve visitors to the region.

North Country Chamber of Commerce president and North Country Regional Economic Development Council co-chair Garry Douglas spoke at the Winter Social and opened the presentation by defining the role of a chamber of commerce.

“It is the collective organization of businesses,” Douglas told the audience. “A popular misconception amongst people about a chamber is they think it’s like a Rotary Club or the Lion’s Club. A chamber of commerce is not a community organization. It ends up serving the community because it does things that are good for business.”

Douglas said the success of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, which repeatedly helps secure hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development grants for the region, is a direct result of its regional approach.

“It’s regional cooperation,” Douglas said. “The stronger those communities are, the stronger the region is. We’re not going to go out there and understand what community specific things are in Schroon Lake and Tupper Lake and Speculator, so we need strong community chambers to do that, to do the things you’re best at while you, in turn, support us, while we do on a regional scale with sufficient capacity the things that can only be done well regionally.”

Douglas explained that it is important for each community to identify what it wants to be before applying for grant money.

“Nobody is entirely one thing, but on the other hand you can’t focus your resources on everything, otherwise you’re not focusing on anything,” Douglas told the Enterprise. “What are your key opportunities right now? Here in Tupper Lake it seems like destination marketing, with that (Adirondack Club and Resort) project pending and hopefully going forward in the next year, is for Tupper Lake where that puck is going to be.”

When asked if Tupper Lake should develop a back-up plan in case the ACR project is voted down by the state Supreme Court, Douglas said, “Failure is not an option. If something is important enough, failure is not an option.”

Boudreau closed with some words of inspiration.

“I’ve mentioned before that it often feels like Tupper Lake is holding its collective breath, embodying reactivity instead of proactivity,” Boudreau said. “In the past few weeks, this dynamic has begun a visible shift as we all took a small but significant shift forward with the issuance of the RFP. It’s important that we don’t stop but continue to shed the cloak of inaction. I believe that real, measurable growth is on the horizon if we continue to remind ourselves of what it could be.”