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Middletown Life

Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce serving M.O.T. area in a big way

Dec 30, 2020 02:21PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Drewe Phinny
Contributing Writer

From 165 member businesses in 2011 to a current count of 630 member businesses.

That’s some pretty solid growth.

It’s even more impressive when you consider that similar groups are struggling to keep pace. Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce (MACC) Executive Director Roxane Ferguson attributes the numbers to several factors, the most important of which is a community-wide spirit of participation and a drive for excellence which is unique for a population that falls between 25,000 and 30,000.

We are very blessed,” Ferguson said. “It’s a culture. The key to our success is that we all work together. We work with all three towns, the merchants, and the school district. We all support each other.”

She added, “M.O.T is a great place to live, work and raise your kids. The schools are great, very eclectic. Appoquinimink is a Governor’s Blue Ribbon School District. We don’t try to be anyone else. We have our own unique, visionary kind of chamber. With most businesses, we’re all wearing multiple hats.”

The MACC was founded 48 years ago by a local resident, Will Kirkwood, and the Rotary Club. “He and his wife, Charlotte ran the chamber out of their house,” Ferguson explained. “Nine years ago, I became their first full-time staff member. I came on to help Peggy Ryan and she transitioned into more of an office manager role because of the growth.”

Ferguson’s marketing experience ranges from banking to adjunct professor to real estate. Her volunteer work includes serving as board member for the M.O.T. Jean Birch Senior Center and the M.O.T. Rotary Club. She also serves as an Honorary Commander for Dover Air Force Base. Somehow, she manages to make time to host a radio show at WDEL 101.7 FM in Wilmington.

Until recently, the chamber was a two-person office, with Ferguson and office manager Lisa Henson. Sandy Gauding is the latest addition and she serves as office assistant.

And, of course, we couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers and our board members,” Ferguson said.

The MACC is a 501 © (6) membership-based nonprofit. Plus, they run a 501 © (3) charity non-profit for the educational foundation. “So we serve two boards of directors, the chamber and the foundation,” Ferguson explained.

Along with the more conventional goals of economic development, and supporting members with different benefits, Ferguson shared that the MACC’s secret ingredient is “putting a different spin on everything we do from a fun element. So our hashtag is fun chamber.”

She explained, “The website video will show you all the fun things we’ve done over the past seven or eight years. For instance, the state corn hole championship draws a huge crowd…We have M.O.T. Night at the Blue Rocks that welcomes anywhere between 3,000 and 7,000 people and we celebrate our community that night. So we’ll have the Little League out on the field. Last year, Appoquinimink High School Boys Baseball won the state championship so they were recognized. We give our big Happy Gilmore Golf check to our scholarship award winners on the field too.”

Mixers are a common benefit for chambers of commerce, and, MACC has its own “fun” approach to that tradition. The location is chosen through a Halloween lottery party.

We’ll have 100 businesses come out and everybody is dressed in costumes,” she explained. “They drop their business cards into a cauldron and we randomly choose the host for next year’s mixer that way. And it’s not uncommon to find two or three businesses partnering for a fun mixer. We [had] two groups partnering for a Mardi Gras party followed by a Leap Year mixer. We partner with the Delaware Small Business Chamber for the Mini Putt-Putt Golf Tournament, the Luau at the Chesapeake Inn in June, the Fall Expo at the Executive Banquet Center in November and the fall outdoor mixer at Schaefer’s Canal House in September. It’s all great fun with the networking we do.”

The foundation raises money for scholarships and entrepreneurships. Over the past decade, MACC has awarded approximately $55,000 to graduating seniors, and last year, the organization awarded the first entrepreneurial grant of $500.

One of the many services that the chamber offers is called the “incubator space,” a place that offers co-working space made available to small businesses.

It’s a private work space for folks who can’t afford to go out to their own brick and mortar right away because of expenses,” Ferguson explained. “They can use boardrooms, workshops, seminars, copier room, and the mail room. If they travel a lot, they can have meetings here and come in as much as they need to. They have 24-hour access.”

Incubator spaces have helped small businesses in the area.

Ferguson explained, “The first space was donated by the town of Middletown, where the Historical Society is now. Almost five years ago, we moved to Cass Street, where the YMCA is now.” Within 18 months, they outgrew that building and went from 3,000 square feet to their current space of 4,300 square feet.

The success rate for MACC clients is impressive, as Ferguson explains: ‘We’ve had forty-one businesses over the past five years that each have their own phenomenal stories. Eighty percent of them are minority, women or veteran-owned, and 30 percent have been certified by the Office of Supplier Diversity in the State of Delaware. What that means is that they’re eligible to put in for state bids under certain thresholds. They’re all at different levels of business ownership.”

Success stories include: First State Staffing Solutions, Learning Tree Academy, Khan Consulting, Webb Insight, SaladWorks, Real Life Community Church, Ram Tech Systems and many more.

As business has expanded from local to global, participation has grown in places that might seem impossible in the past. “If you look at our chamber map, we embody the entire United States. You can do business anywhere now. We actually have businesses headquartered in San Diego.” Other states [where business is being done] include Vermont, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma. People can do business from anywhere in the country.”

Despite all the growth, there is still no end of the progress in sight.

Ferguson supplied some surprising numbers she learned from the School District Superintendent, Matt Burrows: “Ten years ago, we had 18,000 residents. We’re now at thirty-six thousand. In ten more years, we’ll be at 86.000 people by 2030.”

As population increases, so does the need for all kinds of housing.

We have a lot of senior communities; most of them are associated with golf courses,” Ferguson explained. “We just had St. Anne’s open up with a golf course on the west side of town. And now we have upscale apartment complexes opening. There’s The Reserve at Southridge, a Capano management property. It’s beautiful, behind Kohls. And directly across the street, they’re building another one, The Reserve at Westown.”

An important part of MACC support is based on two groups that provide a variety of functions that are imperative to achieving goals.

We have a great board of directors and a great ambassador (volunteer) program,” Ferguson explained. “We have 18 board members on our chamber board and seven board members on the foundation board. And then we have 17 ambassadors. We empower our ambassadors to learn how to emcee an event and they work with the business owners. That also increases their personal growth. In fact, some of them say they never envisioned themselves speaking in public.”

This kind of individual development is a natural match for another MACC program which is the Standing Ovation Toastmasters.

Ferguson summed up the MACC philosophy: “We’re more than just a business organization because part of our mission is to foster community spirit and that’s why we do a lot of community events. We have fun, which is a win-win for us and the people we serve.”

Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce 1050 Industrial Drive, Suite 110 Middletown, Delaware 19700 302-378-7545 [email protected]

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