New look planned for annual chamber event

Those who are old hands at attending the annual Chamber of Commerce annual meeting will find this year’s event a different experience.Starting with a different name, the annual event will also be held at a different venue, with a different menu and a very short business meeting.Reflecting the countywide nature of the chamber, the annual meeting, which has been renamed as the Chamber Celebration, will meet at the Brownstone on State in South Whitley at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 20. Instead of a sit-down dinner, there will be numerous hors d’oeuvres and dessert selections as well as a cash bar. Guests will then be invited to spend most of the evening networking and building relationships with other people and businesses in the community, instead of being locked into the group at their table.“We want our members to see it as an opportunity to start building those relationships, chamber president Sara Lochner-Goff said.About the only thing that will remain the same will be the annual awards. Large and small business of the year awards, Jewel of the Community and Chairman’s Choice will still be honored, but Lochner-Goff said the business part of the meeting “will only last about 15 minutes, tops.”“We really want people to see this as a social networking time. A chance to relax, mingle and talk with people,” she said.In addition, the celebration is open this year to both members and non-members alike. The ticket price has been lowered to $25 per person or $40 for a couple.The changes have come about as the chamber, which announced in 2009 that it would become a countywide entity, continues to evolve to fit the new model. Since that announcement, a new board of directors has been seated, a new chamber president hired and the organization has expanded to include South Whitley and any Churubusco businesses interested in joining as well as out-of-county businesses.Since the expansion of the chamber’s reach, the organization has grown from 230 businesses a year ago to 255 as this year’s annual meeting rolls around. As the chamber finalizes the plans for its celebration, the public is still able, through Wednesday, to nominate their choices for small and large businesses of the year. A nomination form is on page 2 of today’s edition. Reservations for the celebration will also be accepted through Wednesday.