Chamber of Commerce discussion at Rockville Community Coalition meeting

Andrea Jolly, executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce (center) at the Rockville Community Coalition meeting.

At the April 5 meeting of the Rockville Community Coalition, Andrea Jolly shared that the Chamber of Commerce is becoming more active in local advocacy and that the Chamber cares as much about the community as it does business.  She’s the executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, an organization that now claims 185 members, a dramatic turnaround from its nearly lifeless condition just a few years ago.  As examples of their reinvigorated stature, she noted the public stand they’ve taken on behalf of Pumphrey’s; the support for environmental causes that affect the community as a whole (such as the bag tax and storm water management fees); and the sponsorship of the Rockville Economic Summit.  She expressed her concerns that the community seems to be artificially divided between businesses and residents and while the Council claims to be business-friendly, their actions have indicated otherwise.  Most members of the Chamber are small businesses that are locally owned and operated and rely heavily on local residents as both customers and employees.  She also voiced a desire that there be good relationships throughout the community rather than irreconcilable differences–we may disagree at times, but we should always be willing to work together to solve shared issues.

During the discussion:

  1. she clarified the relationship with the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (they attract and retain businesses but cannot advocate; Chamber provides ongoing services to its members and the current business community, can advocate for a business-friendly atmosphere).  She also mentioned that REDI may have a new executive director in place in May.
  2. she was unaware that the City didn’t collect a share of local sales taxes and how this might discourage community support for commercial growth, so she’ll explore this with the Chamber’s legislative committee.
  3. desire for tax incentives for saving energy in existing buildings (i.e., high performance, “green” technologies) in the city.  Most businesses in the City are in existing building; the County program is focused on new construction.
  4. the difficulty of getting participation from the business community in the planning process.  Often they become involved after city plans have been determined, then conflicts arise when they propose projects.
  5. the role of the business community in addressing the commercial blight on North Washington Avenue, the area around the former Giant grocery store.  JBG has plans for this area but is currently working on financing and city approvals.
  6. repeating the Rockville Rewards program next year without Restaurant Week (hasn’t been successful).  Non-profits are not participating as much as hoped.
  7. the City’s self-image as a residential community when it is as much an employment center.  As many people come into the City to work as they do to live here.
  8. the City is not quite a destination for shopping, leisure, or tourism.  It lacks a good mix of attractions and activities for the kinds of visitors it wants to attract or that serve its residents.  The incoming Dawson’s Market may help given it’s mix of services (groceries, deli, and coffee bar) but there’s some concern if the community will shop there.  Unsure of the goals and direction of Federal Realty Investment Trust (operators of Rockville Town Square, Congressional Plaza, Federal Plaza, and Courthouse Center in Rockville).
  9. the need for a visitor center for Rockville to welcome visitors and provide information on what to do and see.  The Chamber receives many calls for this information but doesn’t feel comfortable handling them.  Probably needs to be part of a larger discussion.

She closed by inviting everyone to the luncheon honoring recipients of Rockville’s public safety awards on June 6.  For tickets and more information, visit their website at RockvilleChamber.org.

Note:  Max van Balgooy is a member of the Board of Governors of the Rockville Community Coalition but posts on this blog are personal and do not imply the views or an endorsement by the Rockville Community Coalition.

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