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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Graham Cobb, new president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce, said he plans to help the chamber become more digitally savvy. He's already created #BecauseBentonville and uses it when relating a unique experience he's had in the city. Experiences are a high priority for millennials, and economic development is all about creating sense of place where unique experiences exist, he said.

BENTONVILLE -- The chamber will develop its events differently to better connect to younger professionals and enhance interaction among its members in the coming year, the group's new leader said recently.

Debbie Griffin
NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Graham Cobb, new president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce, said he plans to help the chamber become more digitally savvy. He's already created #BecauseBentonville and uses it when relating a unique experience he's had in the city. Experiences are a high priority for millennials, and economic development is all about creating sense of place where unique experiences exist, he said.

"You will see less events, but you won't see less interaction because we're building valuable programming into them," said Graham Cobb, president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Graham Cobb

Age: 42

Family: Wife, Lisa; Children, William, 7, and Sissy, 5

Born: Little Rock

Experience: Opened three locations of a local pizza chain at age 30, worked in multiple divisions at Arkansas Business Publishing Group and served as the chief operating officer at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce

Source: Staff report

Executive Promotion

Debbie Griffin, Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of marketing and communications, has been promoted to the executive vice president and chief operating officer, the chamber announced Tuesday.

Griffin has been with the chamber for almost three years. She has more than 30 years of experience in communication, marketing, project management, people development and community involvement.

She was the director of communication and technical production at Fellowship Bible Church, managed Walmart’s television and broadcast communication at Sam’s Club and was a television reporter in Northwest Arkansas.

The Benton County native will officially assume her new position Monday.

Source: Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce

The chamber announced in October that Cobb would take its helm, replacing Dana Davis, who retired in August. The chamber has 963 members.

Cobb, an Arkansas native, most recently served as chief operating officer at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Bentonville Chamber events will be designed to engage millennials -- or emerging workforce leaders, as Cobb refers to them -- to "show them the value and fun of what we do," he said.

Specifics aren't known on the number of young professionals leaving or not joining professional organizations, but more than one-fourth of respondents to Buzz Marketing Group's Professional Organizations Study 2015 survey referred to professional organizations as "old school."

Those under the age of 40 have been leaving older groups for several reasons, including not seeing value in the group, participation was too expensive, it wasn't a community of their peers and it lacked technology, the survey concluded. Buzz Marketing Group is a New Jersey-based millennial marketing agency. Its study is often cited by others who give advice on how to engage millennials.

Millennials tend to be slower in joining community organizations than those in older generations because they will try out different places and careers, said Randy Zook, president and CEO of Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

"It's not something at the top of their list," he said. "A lot of them will wait to settle before getting involved in a community."

That creates a challenge for chambers to increase membership among younger professionals, he said. Zook said Cobb was effective in reaching young professionals during his four-years at the Little Rock chamber by being creative with events.

Cobb has a lot of good ideas, Zook said. "He will be very well suited and capable to do a great job in Bentonville."

One example would be offering discounted entry fees to attendees who ride their bikes to an event, Cobb said, explaining healthier employees are more productive employees. Movement is economic development in that sense, he added.

Events also will use icebreaker techniques to encourage members to interact with those they might not otherwise connect with. Cobb used the example of "network bingo" he initiated in Little Rock where participants are given bingo cards and find others who meet a criteria on the card, such as "has been a chamber member for more than five years" or "patroned a downtown business today."

Bentonville's chamber will continue to host its two flagship events -- the Women's Business Conference and the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit.

Sean Morrison said he found icebreaker activities to be effective at other, nonchamber networking events he attended because they provided an entry point into conversations.

"I'm a business owner, but I'm still an introvert in some regards," he said. "We've found those interactions to be valuable."

Morrison founded Simplemachine, a web design and Internet marketing company, in 2013 when he was 25 and worked full time. Joining the chamber was one of the first things he did when he made the company his main work about a year later because people kept mentioning that it would be a good networking resource, he said.

"At that time, to be honest, I didn't really know what a Chamber of Commerce was," Morrison said. "I looked it up, got in contact with them and realized the value of it."

Morrison has built relationships created through chamber events and has even made some hires from those connections. However, the chamber could more effectively reach young professionals by upping its technology and social media game, he said.

He, another chamber member and a chamber employee talked about creating some social media campaigns to boost the chamber's work on those platforms, but there wasn't a foundational understanding among other chamber leaders of the tools, such as hashtags, or how to best use different platforms, Morrison said.

"We had a lot more progression to do than we thought before we could roll out something like that," he said of social media campaigns.

Cobb said he plans to help the chamber become more digitally savvy. He's already created #BecauseBentonville and uses it when relating a unique experience he's had in the city. Experiences are a high priority for millennials, and economic development is all about creating sense of place where unique experiences exist, Cobb said.

"That's the role the chamber plays -- helping to enhance, create and take this experience, market it as workforce development, attraction and retention," he said.

Also while in Little Rock, Cobb helped guide the chamber through a rebranding. The Greater Bentonville Area Chamber completed its rebrand from the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce in February.

Former chamber president Ed Clifford's advice to Cobb was to try everything. Clifford served from 2001 to 2012. He recently met with Cobb.

"Don't get nailed in to what's been done in the past because the major employer there is reinventing themselves," Clifford said, referring to Walmart. "You need to reinvent how the chamber works."

Bentonville is in a unique position to be strategic about the businesses and industries it attracts, Cobb said.

"It's a great time to be here," he said. "We enjoy the best schools in the state, we enjoy the lowest unemployment and we enjoy an extremely high quality of life, but in no way, shape or form does that mean we can just sit back and enjoy those.

"We have to grow, but we have to grow intentionally."

NW News on 12/30/2017

Print Headline: Chamber leader looks to reach young professionals

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