CHANGES ARE IN the works for Marquette’s Chamber of Commerce and its co-working space, Ampersand. There’s uncertainty, as well.
The first change came a couple of weeks ago when executive director Nick Steffey stepped down from his role, leaving that post vacant. Chamber Board president Christian Verardi, while praising Steffey, said he was always seen as an interim director after the departure of Jason Schneider.
Steffey’s skillset, according to Verardi, serves him better in a behind-the-scenes role.
So now what?
Well, the Chamber Board is no longer looking for an “executive director.” Instead, they’re seeking a “member services coordinator.” Someone who will focus solely on the needs of the Chamber’s 180 members, and on growing the membership.
Membership? After dynamic growth in its first couple of years–it was founded in April of 2015–it has slowed. An increase of only nine new members last year.
And further, some members have grumbled, “What is the Chamber actually doing for me?”
Thus, the need for someone to focus on servicing the members.
“We have a lot of irons in the fire,” Verardi points out. “We’ve been operating Ampersand, the Marquette 365 calendar, the Be Local Buy Local campaign, and Evolve Marquette which is in charge of the Artist Residency program, and also taking care of our members’ needs.”
Too many irons in the fire, they’ve decided.
Which brings us to Ampersand, which was created a couple of years ago with the help of a grant from the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office. A big deal–a co-working space that would provide desks or small offices for businesses downtown on a long term or temporary basis.
That grant runs out this December which begs the questions, “Can Ampersand sustain itself? Is it profitable?”
The answer: A qualified No. Not yet.
“We’re not good at operating Ampersand,” Verardi admits. “We need to get resources behind it–the manpower, the technical expertise and the marketing. We’re now looking at coming up with a strategic partnership or an operating agreement with someone to manage Ampersand.”
And who would that partner be? Undetermined so far. Preferably a local person or group.
And the same answer regarding the search for a “member services coordinator.” Someone local.
The Chamber’s Board is searching. Plenty of interested candidates.
But the Chamber is at a crossroads here. They have a membership that has stagnated in recent years, and an exciting creation–Ampersand–that has so far fallen a bit short of expectations.
The good news? Verardi’s absolutely honest about the challenges facing them, and the Chamber’s Board is smart and dynamic, with a strong belief in the future of Marquette.
So “disappointment” is probably not the appropriate way to characterize Marquette’s Chamber and Ampersand at this crucial point.
“Growing pains” is more like it.