Q & A Roxane Ferguson, Executive Director, Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce
If the Middletown business climate has become, in recent years, one of the fastest-growing areas for commerce in Delaware, then the work of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of Executive Director Roxane Ferguson, is partly responsible. Recently, Middletown Life caught up with Roxane to ask her about the growth she's seen in the Chamber, its dedication to promoting the work of its members, as well as her fascinating group of dinner guests.
Q: You've been the executive director of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce since 2011. In what ways do you see the chamber growing during that time?
A: I'm the first full-time staff member the Chamber has ever had. Peg Ryan has been a great part-time office manager for ten years, and they've been an amazing, volunteer-driven organization for he past 40 years. They had about 165 members when I started, and now we have 400. I think they were a quiet giant in this area for a long time, but we're taking it and jumping into the 21st Century. We took Best Practices from other organizations I've been associated with and have applied it to the Chamber. We've developed a state-of-the-art website and on-line, nationally-award-wining publications. We sponsor a State Championship BBQ tournament that draws over12,000 people. We host an M.O.T. Night with the Blue Rocks that celebrates our community and brings over 5,000 residents to the ballpark. We've created networking- and womens'-based groups. We have events that sell out in advance because of the speakers we schedule. There are businesses in the Tri-State area who now want to do business here, so a membership is not just locally indicative, but more far-reaching – New Jersey, Chester County, Maryland. That's helped us flourish. It's the open-mindedness of our board and the community to forge new territories that hadn't been looked at before, from a Chamber prospective.
Q: To a new or existing business, what are the advantages of becoming a member of the Chamber?
A: In challenging business climates, businesses have to be really savvy as to how they invest their dollars when it comes to marketing and so forth. We want to give our members a forum to empower them, in order to share who they are with the people they want to reach, because of the brand that we have created. We offer on-line training for our member companies. We have begun the program, "Chamber Chatter" on “MOT-7” with Positive Promotions, a television program that promotes our events and our businesses. We've invested in a technology called Chamber Master, which allows our members to share social media, job postings, and have the use of search engine optimization tools to promote what they do in a cost-effective way. They can upload e-brochures, logos and videos. We're averaging 16,000 hits a month to our web site. We realize what the power of social media an having a web presence has in promoting our members. We're a valuable business organization that fosters community spirit.
Q: I imagine the greatest success that the Chamber you see is how they provide assistance to the small business, who very often wants to establish a foothold and yet doesn't have the immediate means to make that footing.
A: Our members see the power of our events and the impact they have on their business. It's more than just networking; it's building relationships. We put people in touch with each other so that they can foster these relationships. We have all become each others' ally, and the stories that we have heard from small businesses have been very powerful. Many businesses have grown so much from their involvement that they want to host their own Chamber events.
Q: What's your favorite spot in Middletown?
A: It would have to be Main Street. I love that I can walk from my office on Broad Street, go to Femme Fatale, to Immediato's, to Purple Sage, in order to get things you can't find anywhere else. You never know what you're going to find at these shops, but if you like something, you're going to have to get it then. My husband and I love sitting outside at Sully's for dinner. My son won a hot dog eating contest at Dogtown, so we go often to redeem his hot dog prizes.
Q: Dinner guests?
A: I would invite Amelia Earhart, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, and Jesus, as well as people who have been inspirational to me, like my husband. My mom, who passed away last year, and other entrepreneurial spirits I've known and read about, each of whom stood up in their time and made a difference, would also be invited.
Q: What food is always in your refrigerator?
A: Chocolate and wine. And if I can get some cheese from Fromage to go with it, that's even better!
For additional information about the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, visit www.maccde.com.