Interview: Chip Massie, Executive Director, Klamath County Chamber of Commerce
Last week, I got to talk on the phone with Chip Massie about what it means to be a community quarterback. Chip is the Executive Director of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has driven economic growth since 1905. What emerged from our conversation was a deep dive into the relationship between city leaders, business owners, and ordinary citizens.
Finn: What does the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce do? What’s your role?
Chip: I’m the Executive Director. I help guide the management of the organization and represent 450 business, institutions, and organizations across Klamath County.
Finn: When did you start?
Chip: About eight years ago. My background was as an independent business person, an entrepreneur, generally in food service. But I’ve also done some hospitality kinds of things: I opened and managed a bed and breakfast, a variety of restaurants, and I’ve been an event developer for communities.
Finn: Have you heard the term “community quarterback”?
Chip: No, that was new to me. I was hoping you could give me a definition.
Finn: The basic idea of a community quarterback is a person or organization that is able to work across silos to get community projects done. In certain areas, there are problems that everyone wants to solve, but they only see the tools that are right in front of them. A community quarterback can organize a diverse range of demographics and organizations to achieve meaningful progress.
Chip: That’s a great definition, and I think it fits a chamber of commerce really well. Chambers of commerce come with their own community brand. They’re been around for hundreds and hundreds of years — the first chamber predates the Constitution. There have been these kinds of organizations for probably over six hundred years, if you go all the way back to specialty guilds and things like that.
Finn: Whoa! I had no idea. Who does the Chamber represent?
Chip: One of the intriguing things about a chamber of commerce is really that it was developed around the idea that any and all businesses can be a part of it. It’s not like a Restaurant Association, which is just specifically about restaurants.
So in a chamber, your membership can be every business category. In our chamber, we have businesses, the city is a member, the county is a member, and both of the city’s institutions of higher learning are members.
“When you are fostering entrepreneurism, there is no band-aid, there is no quick solution. You get people to think differently.”
Finn: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Chip: Klamath has historically been a timber and natural-resource based economy, but all that has changed as a result of the Endangered Species Act and other regulatory changes. The community was blue collar and had multiple wood mills, so culturally, the expectations around your career was that you would go work for a company and be there for your whole career. We had a vibe where you would work for that company for a long time. Now though, when you talk about entrepreneurship and the fact that only 1 in 10 entrepreneurs are successful, that’s a very different mindset. When you have done something for decades, how can you communicate new ways of making a positive impact and driving economic growth?
We have to create a culture that is accepting of the changes ahead of us and are now shifting the conversation from asking what entrepreneurs need, to looking at how to involve the whole community. How do you lay the groundwork so that growth happens organically? We realized that we needed to put time into getting community buy-in. That was one of those community quarterback “aha” moments.
Finn: So how did you get involved with Hatch?
Chip: We found Hatch by going through that process of looking at the constraints to engaging community and shifting culture. For entrepreneurism to succeed, you have to have a culture and community of people who are willing to invest in their communities. Historically, we were a community where you put money in the bank or your retirement account, but were unaware that the money was likely going to benefit someone else and some other community.
When you are fostering entrepreneurism, there is no band-aid, there is no quick solution. You get people to think differently. How do you help a student, for instance, from Oregon Tech with a background in renewable energy, how do you support them to develop their product idea? It’s more than just finding a patent attorney. I have got to put my self-interest aside and ask, how can I help this individual in an endeavor that may or may not be successful? You may have to start thinking differently about success when a new idea or business has to go through a 3 year due diligence process, or where you may have to invest ten thousand dollars and wait for ten years before seeing a return. Also, how do you work within the confines of the regulatory system?
Finn: So how do you encourage people to work in community development?
Chip: You know, my parents were the ‘Greatest Generation,’ the folks from WWI, so I was brought up in a time when I was told to provide for my family, have a certain set of values, and be engaged in my community. I learned that having a business, having a restaurant, meant that it was important for the community to be successful. Maybe the process takes time, but the argument is apparent – there is a connection between business success and community success.
Hear more from Chip and other experts at ComCap16, April 26-28, 2016.