You know you’re creating a stir when the big guy wants to join your party. The success Chris Fowler as executive director of Syracuse First has enjoyed since 2009 attracted the attention of CenterState CEO, which recently brought Fowler and his 200 members under its umbrella. Not only will Fowler report to work at the Syracuse Technology Garden, 235 Harrison St.—a CenterState entity—but the 200 Syracuse First members will be able to take advantage of some of the benefits and services provided by the chamber of commerce-like organization.
Lest you think that Fowler sold out his locally owned, independent businesses to “the man,” he disagrees. “The big part of our message and our mission is thinking collaboratively instead of thinking competitively,” he said. “In that vein, our partnership is built on what is central to the think-local message. We can’t be building collaborations with CenterState CEO—asking businesses to think about how to work with other businesses even if they don’t seem like natural partners—without doing that ourselves; then we’re being disingenuous. This partnership fills that opportunity: We are all living this mission and it’s going to help Syracuse First reach more people and connect with more people, and build a really strong local economy.”
While it may seem like a big business/small business mismatch, Fowler sees it differently. “Much of the work we’ve been doing has been developing this network of locally owned, independent businesses,” he said of Syracuse First. “At the same time CenterState has been working to enhance business opportunities here. We’ve been doing so many things similarly that we started talking about how we can stop working in parallel and start working together.”
With the merger, which was announced May 3, Fowler expects the members of Syracuse First (including charter member, the Syracuse New Times) to further be able to save money, increase visibility and make new business connections. To that end, CenterState CEO vice president of chamber services Jane Amico said she is planning educational sessions for current members and the Syracuse First businesses.
“We are offering Syracuse First members an opportunity to become a dual member with CenterState CEO,” she explained. “There is an incentive to be a member of both, financially. And we’re also working with CenterState CEO members, educating them on the benefits of Syracuse First and trying to get as many members to join both organizations. We’re going to start that whole cross-pollination process, so both can see what each group is all about.”
That said, CenterState CEO is not your father’s Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce. Formed on May 1, 2010, when the chamber and the Metropolitan Development Association merged, CenterState also includes the Tech Garden, the Downtown Committee and the Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“This new partnership model is part of a broader organization that speaks to not only business development and chamber of commerce-type services, but also economic development, community development,” noted Kevin Schwab, vice president of marketing and communications. “We now represent a 12-county region, hence the name ‘CenterState.’” Before the merger, the chamber reached Onondaga County and its contiguous counties only.
The kickoff event celebrating Syracuse First’s new affiliation was the highly publicized Cuse Mob, which took place May 5 at Craft Chemistry, 745 N. Salina St. “We were able to build an audience and get the information out about the Cuse Mob, and it was a successful event, with more than 250 people stopping by and one happy business with Craft Chemisty,” Fowler reported. “We are planning the Cuse Mob as a regular event, but randomly. We want them to stay spontaneous.”
After a somewhat anticlimactic, Twitter-fueled buildup revealing Craft Chemistry as the spot for the first Cuse Mob (WSTM-Channel 3 spilled the beans early), the shop welcomed the throng, Fowler said. With advance notice, shop proprietor Briana Kohlbrenner ordered enough inventory and set up extra checkout counters for the expected crush. “I know she sold more that day than she had in months cumulatively leading up to the Mob,” Fowler added.
Fowler expects that, with the new, um, business relationship between Syracuse First and CenterState CEO, such special events will attract even more participants. He pointed to his every-November buy local initiative, Shop Syracuse Week. “I’m already enthusiastic about the potential for that because we now have this expanded footprint of folks to work with,” he said. “The week of the merger alone we had 7,000 hits on our website in three days. We were really excited about that. If we want to continue to be able to provide the kind of education and information and support we needed to figure out a way to do that more effectively.
“Part of that will include presentations,” he continued. “As we are able to reach more people, with the help of CenterState CEO, we’ll be able to tell more people about the advantages of supporting locally owned, independent businesses, and get folks working with each other, networking, sourcing from each other and growing the local economy. At the end of the day, all this results in an improved quality of life for the entire community.”
For more information on Syracuse First, visit syracusefirst.org.