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Greater Vidalia Chamber Debuts

Greater Vidalia  Chamber Debuts Greater Vidalia  Chamber Debuts

New Name, New Brand

The Toombs-Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has a new name and a new brand. The Greater Vidalia Chamber made its debut at a festive annual meeting at Hawk’s Point in Vidalia Thursday night.

Steven McComas, 2021 Chamber Board Chair, said, 'The new name is part of a holistic

Rooted in every layer of business continued from page

rebranding effort for the chamber that includes a new logo, new website, and an aggressive marketing strategy. With the globally recognized Vidalia onion, we will leverage our new brand to embark on a multiyear strategy to increase commerce throughout Toombs, Montgomery, and surrounding market areas.”

McComas explained that the new name is intended to propel existing efforts to exhibit a progressive business climate to retain and attract small businesses and young professional talent. “We appreciate the support we receive from our members and local leadership on our three strategic priorities focused on growth in our Reach Programs, a new Regional Center for Entrepreneurship, and this rebranding effort.'

In explaining what led to the change, McComas said about two years ago, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce presented facts to local planners about the Toombs-Montgomery County area. “The projected net growth within the area was 120 jobs by 2027. The population will get older, young people will get educated here and accelerate out of the community. Close to 28% of the population in 2027 will be above age of 65 and 21% of the population will not be … competitive in the global environment.” McComas said the local chamber focused on what could be done to counteract these projections.

Now in its second year, the sponsor-based REACH program continues to grow as it serves seven counties in the Toombs-Montgomery region. Chamber member Greg Hudgins provided an overview of the expanding initiative. “This program speaks to all businesses in our community and outside of it.” Among the opportunities offered through REACH are Showcasing Toombs-Montgomery, Business Solutions Summit, Business Expo and ConnectHER. “This program is customized to fit each business model and provides opportunities to network and showcase businesses.”

Chamber member Britt McDade provided a glimpse of things to come with the chamber’s Entrepreneurship Center. Mc-Dade noted that 97% of businesses employ fewer than 50 people and 20% of these small businesses fail within the first year, 30% fail by the end of the second year, and 50% fail by the end of the fifth year. “This is proof that people need resources and guidance to keep from failing,” he said.

The chamber’s Regional Entrepreneurship Center will “foster, promote and accelerate existing and new, start-up businesses through incubation, co-working, mentoring, funding and strategic support.” The Center will offer facility-based services, low-cost office spaces, Internet and direct business development. An educational program partnering with local schools and colleges will offer business seminars and professional networking environments.

McComas said of the Entrepreneurship Center, “This is not a formalized program at an institution. This is an idea, and also a place where people can come and think and do. We have to engage the next generation. We want them to start businesses, to buy businesses.”

In introducing the new branding/marketing strategy adopted by the chamber, McComas used as an example the lost opportunity on nearby Interstate 16. “It takes 25 minutes to get here from I-16, one of the most traveled roads in the United States. But people are driving right by our community.” He emphasized, “We want to attract people off that interstate to Lyons, Mount Vernon, Vidalia, and bring business to this area. We want them to drive 25 minutes into our area.” One way to do that is to place billboards strategically along the busy route with an invitation to visit and a QR code that can be captured electronically and connect immediately with the chamber’s new website where information on businesses, community events and local attractions can be easily accessed. Front and center will be the chamber’s new logo that celebrates what is already an internationally- recognized brand, the Vidalia Onion. The billboards will begin to go up in the third and fourth quarters of 2021, McComas said.

“We want to use this global brand to create attention, so that people are coming off of the Interstate and going to Hardware Pizza or the Real Squeal in Lyons, to Brewton–Parker College in Mount Vernon where they can see the historic pioneer village or learn about the nursing program, or to Vidalia for the Onion Festival.”

He noted, “There is power of brand and leverage regardless of the communities we are in. We have a beautiful Community, but we have to get an influx of outside commerce to stimulate growth in this community.” Using a cell phone, visitors to the area can access information on local business and activities “with three clicks. On the back end, there are analytics that tell help us track who is coming to our area.”

Michele Johnson, Chamber President and Executive Director of the Toombs- Montgomery Development Authority, emphasized, “We need to work together for the common goal of economic prosperity. Here, there is a sense that everyone is important and we need to build on that.”

A 30-year veteran of the local chamber, Johnson said the decision to rebrand locally was facilitated in part by the impact of COVID-19. “I am not sure we would have pulled the trigger (at this time) except for COVID. It exposed a lot of things in the country, supply teams and people’s hearts. You see companies reshoring or spreading out operations.”

She added, “People have learned they can work anywhere. For the first time in a long time, people are seeing a reason to be rural as they leave big cities that may never be the same again. In this competitive world, given the circumstances we have right now, we need to position our communitytoseize benefits may be coming our way.”

Johnson said the rebranding project focused on three different perspectives: Chamber Operations

“The Chamber is a membership-based organization and members are our number one priority. We have been in existence since 1948 but today’s Chamber is much different than in the past. We know we have to evolve and adapt over time to sustain ourselves and remain competitive. We have evolved to remain relevant.” She elaborated, “In moving forward we wanted to maintain consistency with current marketing materials, but also recognize the value of combining forces and working with groups of communities that are similar or complementary in what they have to offer entrepreneurs and employers.”

This approach is essential when working on regional issues like transportation, education, and workforce development.

Regional Community

“Obviously, we have great relationships and we wanted to recognize the history, heritage, tradition, and growth opportunities of the greater community. We felt like a good way to do this was by aligning ourselves with a shared treasure that is already in place, the Vidalia Onion. We wanted to work together to continue to establish ourselves as a regional leader in jobs, health care, and education. We felt like we should use all the ammunition available to ensure the future of our overall community,” Johnson emphasized. “Every unique locality is still going to be represented. We are all in this together but we need to realize we are better as a cohesive regional program. Local governments have charged themselves with certain goals. We took some time and dove into the comprehensive plans of Toombs and Montgomery counties and our region. This very closely aligned with all of those plans, and we want to work alongside our local governments to promote their efforts and then wanted to look at it from a business and talent perspective.”

Global Brand

Johnson emphasized, “We want to be a beacon for rural prosperity and resiliency. We want to use the world name of Vidalia Onion as a marketing tool. It’s part of our history, our heritage and community pride that’s already there. Marketing experts actually laughed in our faces because we already had a community brand not being used effectively.”

She said of the new brand, it’s timeless, it says we treasure our storied regional heritage and apply its meaningful lessons to promote forward progress. It is cutting edge, with fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to keep our region at the forefront of commerce and culture. It is diverse. We value the viewpoints of a varied community and audience and seek to create growth of all who live and work in our region. It’s energetic and fosters a stimulating atmosphere to young and established professionals alike. It is industrious, promoting a productive, business-oriented environment perfect for putting down roots, creating fruitful partnerships and spurring meaningful growth.

McComas summarized, “The (Vidalia Onion) brand has tremendous resonance across the world. We want to drive national attention. I am not talking about local or regional, but everyone on national basis. People outside this area value that name. They may say, ‘We don’t know if its Lyon, France, or Lyons, Georgia, but we do know Vidalia.’ The whole idea with the brand of Vidalia is we can attract attention.”

“We want to be a beacon for rural prosperity and resiliency. We want to use the world name of Vidalia Onion as a marketing tool. It’s part of our history, our heritage and community pride that’s already there.”

-Michele Johnson, Chamber President and Development Authority Executive Director

IN APPRECIATION – Outgoing Chamber Chair Tres Herin presents the 2020 Chairman’s Award to Harry Moses in recognition of extraordinary service and leadership. Moses is Vice-Chairman of the Toombs County Development Authority on which he has served since 2017.Photo by Deborah Clark

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