BY WIL CREWS
This year, the Opelika Chamber of Commerce wants to find its flow.
“When you are firing on all cylinders and in the groove, that’s your flow,” said Chamber President and CEO Ali Rauch. “We have got a lot to accomplish and execute, and in order to do that, each of us need to be on our game, doing what we are meant to be doing.”
The Opelika Chamber of Commerce has come a long way since Rauch took the helm less than three years ago. The chamber, like any business, has faced its fair share of ups and downs, but Rauch carries full belief in her team’s ability to continue making a positive impact in the community.
“When I look back on the last three years, it is astonishing — everything that we have accomplished,” Rauch said. “We have certainly gone through some ups and downs with transition because change is challenging to some people. I had some growing pains of like, ‘How do I navigate this new world?’ When I was sitting down three years ago to now, I did not think I would be this lucky and be in this good of a place that quickly. We have an incredible team that works here. I am grateful for [them], thankful for the community. It’s easy to sell a community like Opelika.”
Throughout Rauch’s time at the chamber, the organization has adopted a theme for each year.
In 2021, it was “Grow.” Last year, it was “Forward.”
Coinciding with that theme, the chamber last year launched its “Forward Opelika” campaign — a comprehensive, five-year, $2.77 million strategic community and economic development plan designed to attract and align talent, grow business and quality jobs and create a business hub.
All told, the chamber raised $2.5 million for its Forward Opelika campaign. Additionally, the chamber raised $370,000 for its REACH Campaign — an initiative carefully curated to provide a variety of platforms for advertising, branding and networking that will help businesses reach new heights.
“We want to make sure that the 226 businesses which invested in our REACH campaign receive a return on that, and that we are delivering what we say we will,” Rauch said.
Further adding to its accomplishments last year, the chamber welcomed 228 new members, raising the organization’s number of partners to more than 970 in total. And finally, in 2022, the chamber launched several successful, community-centered promotions like Food Truck Friday and the combining of the Christmas parade and annual Snopelika celebration.
“For the most part, people have embraced crazy ideas,” Rauch joked. “There are so many things that we have done that weren’t on my list when I started three years ago, but now it’s just awesome.”
This year, the chamber’s theme is “Flow.” And while it launched a number of new programs in 2022, the goal is to enact them in 2023.
“For example, last year we raised the money for Forward Opelika; this year it is time to get to work,” Rauch said. “We have a lot of new things that we have to execute this year, so my team is just really focused on doing those to the best of our ability.”
Going forward, the chamber has a number of exciting things planned for this year. It has already hosted its “All Things Marketing Summit” in January, along with launching “Try it Tuesday” — a promotion in which Rauch visits local businesses, putting herself in the shoes of those who work at, eat at or visit the organization.
“It’s so fun,” Rauch said regarding Try it Tuesday. “It’s an opportunity for our business community to teach the general public about what they do.”
Coming up, the chamber is partnering with the Opelika Workforce Council to take a group of 25 local elected officials, leaders and business professionals on an “adult field trip” to visit the Chamber of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
“They are leading the country in what they are doing in workforce [development], so we are going to go see it together,” Rauch said.
Furthermore, Rauch expressed her excitement for upcoming chamber events like the First Responders BBQ, the State of the City — which will have a new spin on it — and the first ever Valor Awards in September.
“That is going to be really cool,” Rauch said of the Valor Awards. “It’s going to be a black-tie gala on Sept. 11, and we will be honoring our firefighters and police officers.”
As for the new twist to the State of the City, “it will be an evening cocktail type of event,” Rauch said. “We will have cocktail hour brought to you by John Emerald Distillery, and then we will go hear from Mayor Fuller, and he will share what’s happening. When he is done, we are going to turn on the music and hopefully dance the night away.”
Moreover, Rauch explained the chamber’s plan to publish a legislative agenda in 2023. This entails seeking feedback from the local business community regarding specific issues on which the state or federal government will vote in the upcoming year.
“Chambers do this all over the country,” she said. “We get a consensus among our membership. We print that, say ‘This is how we feel’ and provide it to our legislators. That either helps convince them to vote a certain way or provides confirmation that ‘I am voting for this, and the business community likes this.’”
Finally, the last of the chamber’s 2023 goals is one that is ever present each year: achieving operational excellence. The scheduled construction of a new chamber headquarters will further open the doors to what the organization can accomplish in that vein.
“A goal that we always have is achieving operational excellence,” Rauch said. “It’s one of our core pillars. We will stay focused on retaining our current members, making sure they are happy and receiving what they need while also still growing. They’re new businesses opening every day. … We try to beat budget each year. It’s not sexy, but it’s essential in the business world, so we certainly plan on doing that.”
Keep up with all things Opelika Chamber of Commerce by visiting its Facebook page or www.opelikachamber.com/.