March 28, 2016
Shop Talk

MetroWest chamber trying to form cooperative advocacy

PHOTO/Matt VOLPINI
Paul Joseph, president and CEO, MetroWest Chamber of Commerce

VIEW: Shop Talk MetroWest

Paul Joseph took over the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 14, advocating for changes in the way chambers operate. Before coming on, he was the chairman of the Natick Economic Development Committee and owned his consulting firm, Contexed LLC. Since taking over, he has pushed for the chambers in MetroWest to work togehter and educate towns on the benefits of having a strong business community.

What should a modern chamber do?

If you look at chambers historically, they evolved from downtown merchant associations and have become more a regional presence. We have many of these chambers in the MetroWest region, obviously wedged between the large one in Worcester and the large one in Boston. I felt there was a great opportunity to amplify the value that these chambers offered by having them work together. Rather than having them be territorial, have them find shared opportunities for value to our memberships.

Where are those shared opportunities?

When you look at the historical definition of the chamber of commerce, there is that role of advocacy. We do some lobbying and some advocacy for legislation. Looking at this legislative session, there is that issue of minimum wage, whether there should be some level set for equal pay. We want to advocate for members the best that we can, but we also want to understand there are two sides to that coin.

What challenges the MetroWest chamber?

The MetroWest chamber is very unique because it has an eclectic mix of very large employers and very small mom-and-pop type shops. We have to find that balance of the corporate headquarters of Staples and Bose and the major presence of Genzyme, MathWorks and TJX, and you have to contrast that will have the pizza shops, services firms and nonprofits.

What do you advocate for on a local level?

We need to help the communities integrate better with the commercial sector. From being a selectman in Natick, I understand there is a lot of controversy. Do you have a separate commercial tax rate, or do you have a single tax rate?

Residential taxpayers are concerned about giving too much to businesses as their own expense. There is a challenge out there to help residential taxpayers understand how a strong commercial base can offset their residential rates.

How can chambers better serve their members?

We, as a community of chambers, can serve the communities in a more proactive way, using technology – creating videos, learning modules, giving education in a digestible way – especially for entrepreneurs. One thing we have seen working with small business, in particular, is they just don't have the time to come out and network. When they do come out, they are not natural networkers. One of my goals is to enable that for people. Can you make videos for people to sit at home and watch tutorials? Can you bring them together for things like our small business toolkit, where we have experts come in and teach about topics like social media? We need to take it beyond simple recordings and actually be out working with them to use the platform.

Why did you take over as chamber CEO?

It was an interesting opportunity to build upon what I had been doing as a volunteer in Natick. I had been chair of the economic development committee, which is an advisory committee to the Board of Selectmen, for about six years; and I did serve one term on the Board of Selectmen from 2010 to 2013.

I was aware of the reach of the chamber, and the role it played in economic development; and it was an interesting opportunity to effect, on a larger scale, some of the issues I was trying to do at the local level.

What are the issues in MetroWest?

Predominately marketing. Understanding that MetroWest is what I consider to be a highly sustainable region. We've got the quality of life; we've got the access to transit; we've got the educated workforce. There are common themes we found in the year before I took the job that all the towns in MetroWest could speak about those things, and I felt that responsibility should really be placed under the chamber umbrella – to be the portfolio marketer for the region.

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