Nearly 200 Knoxville professionals were asked to complete a survey last month to help gauge their thoughts on the community and the Chamber of Commerce. Former Mayor Harv Sprafka asked 194 people in the area three questions about the chamber. He says 170 people participated in the interviews and the full report was presented to the Chamber Board at their meeting Wednesday morning. The goal of the survey was to gauge how Knoxville residents feel about the chamber and what improvements they think need to be made.
Read the full report below.
Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Survey – Report 2001 by Harvey E. Sprafka
This report is the result of an internal and external survey that I conducted in late February and March 2011.
The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce has and is experiencing ongoing, difficult challenges. It’s been struggling for several years because of financial debt, continuous turnover in leadership and office personnel, a lack of continuity in planning and a shared vision, and poor communication with its members, the business community, and the public at-large. For the past two years, it has been operating without a director and as a “working board.”
Successful businesses continually survey their customers so as to learn what products or services of their operations are creating satisfied or dissatisfied customers. Similarly, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce seeks to improve its operations to meet the needs and wants of its customers – the businesses and service providers of Knoxville. It was for that reason that this unscientific survey was conducted. The primary purpose of the one-on-one survey was to garner input from the business community and determine what should be done to create a more vibrant, growing, and effective chamber of commerce. Second, because it was a face-to-face survey, it could be viewed as a Chamber outreach program to the business community.
All parties – current members, non-members, and never called on businesses – were asked three open-ended questions: 1) What do you think of the Knoxville Chamber? 2) What concerns do you have of the Chamber? and 3) What would you like to see the Chamber become, be or do?
I want to thank all persons that I interviewed for their interest and support of this project. Their willingness to participate in the survey was greatly appreciated. Some of their thoughts and ideas can be found in the quotations that are in this report. For reasons of confidentiality, the identities of the persons attributed to the quotes are not provided. All parties/entities (194 respondents) that participated in the survey can be found listed at the end of this report in the Appendix.
What do you think of the Knoxville Chamber?
Eighty-three respondents (43%) have a favorable view and were complimentary of the Knoxville Chamber. Seventy-eight respondents (40%) said they didn’t know what the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce does or were unaware of its operations. Thirty-three respondents (17%) said they have an unfavorable view of the Chamber or said it was not on the right track.
Although a small majority of those queried have a favorable view and said they like what the Chamber is currently doing, the survey shows there’s a tremendous communication problem that currently exists, especially when you add the “I don’t know” with those that have a negative perception of the Chamber. So, communication efforts need to be enhanced and directed toward the business community (members and non-members) and the general public.
Additionally, several longtime members expressed dissatisfaction in not having had contact with chamber personnel. One seventeen (17) year member has paid its firm’s annual dues continually, but, unfortunately, has yet to receive a visit from a chamber representative. There were several other members as well as former disgruntled members that expressed similar disappointments. Some have been in business for many years and others two years or less that are still awaiting a visit.
The following are a few quotes related to the first question:
“I respect them and what they’re trying to do.”
“They’re more businesslike and prudent now in their spending.”
“Doing a good job with no director; however, they’re treading water.”
“They’ve dug their way out of a lot of debt.”
“Reenergized, doing some good things.”
“They have gone backwards. Not professional”
“They aren’t fulfilling their primary purpose. I wonder if they listen?”
“Nothing being done. Retail promotions are non-existent.”
“Asked for information/material and I’m still waiting.
”There’s no follow through.”
“Their dues are outrageous. Non-members are treated as non-entities.”
Many respondents expressed their dissatisfaction that’s been long standing and would relate incidents that occurred long before the “working board” was organized. One frequently mentioned problem that’s related to the past, and a primary reason for not renewing their memberships, was unreturned phone calls. They felt the Chamber was only interested their membership dues.
Respondents would also often express dissatisfaction with the City of Knoxville and its operations. As a result, I would have to rein them in and remind them that this was a survey for the Knoxville Chamber and not the city organization. Nevertheless, in the third question of the survey, many expressed a hope that the Chamber and City would work together to ensure the community’s viability, retain and recruit new businesses, enhance quality of life amenities, create economic development initiatives, and stimulate population growth.
What concerns do you have of the Chamber?
Although many of the “I don’t know” group answered the second question as they did the first, some joined the pro and con groups and articulated specific concerns.
The concern mentioned most frequently is the lack of leadership (no director). The Chamber lacks a “face” and is neither active nor visible, according to many of the respondents: “Leadership and professionalism are lacking. There’s no succession planning.” Another person said, “I’m concerned that if they don’t get a director soon they’ll hurt Knoxville. Doing nothing is the greater risk.”
Right behind the leadership concern is the sense that the Chamber lacks focus and purpose. As one board member said, “What’s our purpose? What’s our mission?” Another board member said, “Are we doing what our members want us to do?” Those questions were echoed time and again by members and non-members alike. The following are a few examples:
“They seem to be drifting.”
“They’re like a boat without a rudder.”
“What are their goals and objectives?”
“The Board needs to develop a Mission and Vision statement. How can they achieve goals or focus their energies, if they don’t know their purpose and function?”
Communication, the Chamber’s web site and technology, and their interaction with the business community and City government, or the lack thereof, are major concerns:
“They need to work more with the town’s businesses.”
“I feel they don’t care about small business.”
“We’re not a downtown business. As a result, we don’t hear from them.”
“It’s tough to get the City and the Chamber to work together because of poor communication by the two groups.”
“Their web site is their store front and it’s inconsistent.”
“The web site doesn’t have a lot meat to it.”
“The Chamber’s web site is not user friendly; it’s hard to navigate.”
Parking-related issues in the downtown district have been a long standing problem and a lot of concerns were raised during the survey. Of special concern are the barricaded streets for special events, and “Bike Night” was frequently cited as an example of an event benefitting only one business and negatively affecting the other businesses on the downtown square. One downtown business (non-liquor) said they were in favor of “Bike Night” and experienced some return business from the event. And a new business on the Knoxville Square said it’s looking forward to the event and is hopeful it will bring customers to their store. All other businesses, however, said the closing of the streets curtailed access to their stores and they might as well close their doors when the streets are blocked off, for traffic to their stores drops immediately and when they were open for the evening event they experienced no walk-in traffic. One merchant said a woman shopper from Albia was in her store and asked about a sign in the street saying the street would close at 4:00 p.m. When she told her it was for “Bike Night” the lady responded, “I’ve got to remember not to come to Knoxville on Fridays.” Others expressed the concern of food vendors setting up shop outside the doors of the downtown restaurants. One restaurant, that sells food outside in front of their facility, said, “We receive little benefit from the event.”
Although “Bike Night” was cited specifically and frequently, merchants said the blocked streets is a negative whenever it occurs, the exceptions being the “Living Windows” event in mid-November and “Bizarre-Bazaar” prior to and after the running of the Knoxville Nationals Parade.
Some of the affected parties said the questions that need to be asked when a request is made to close streets in the downtown business district and elsewhere are: who are the beneficiaries of the event and who’s adversely affected by the street closure? Do you close the streets to benefit a business and/or the personal interests of a few to the detriment of other businesses? Are there other locations in the community that would better serve the event? Is the event designed to attract a certain age group or is it a family event? In short, what’s the greater good?
Many respondents said the Chamber needs to prioritize what they do. Some believe they’ve focused too much on events and would rather they direct their efforts toward tourism, support and retention of businesses, and the recruitment of new businesses to fill building vacancies and create foot traffic to existing businesses.
Another common concern that was expressed frequently is related to the appearance of the city, which makes it uninviting and contributes to the belief that Knoxville is dying. Many of the respondents would like the Chamber and City of Knoxville to partner in addressing the appearance issue.
“Clean up the city. Our community doesn’t show well and it inhibits growth in population and hurts business recruitment. The city’s appearance is an important component in economic development.”
“Because of unsightly properties downtown and community-wide, the image presented is that the town is dying.”
“Clean up the town; it doesn’t look good. I walk everywhere and I see a lot of trash and run down properties.”
“The town’s appearance is not what it should be.”
“Beautify the city.”
“There’s a lack of pride. The town and downtown district needs to be cleaned up. It looks trashy.”
What would you like the Chamber to become, be or do?
As expected, the third and final open-ended question drew the most responses. Although there was a wide range of ideas about the Chamber and what they should focus on,
there were definite trends and commonality in the responses. Being active, focused, visible, proactive, promoter of local business and the community, trustworthy, passionate about Knoxville, supportive of economic development and quality of life initiatives, being open-minded and receptive to change, partnerships with the city, county, state and federal governments, the Chamber as a centralized source of information and networking (business to business), and the resurrection of an economic development group, KIDC, were expressed frequently. Time and time again respondents said a vibrant, active chamber of commerce office is a necessary and an integral part to the town’s growth and vitality. They also acknowledged that the Chamber can’t do it alone and the community as a whole needs to be involved:
“Develop an expertise related to retail and small businesses.”
“Assume a leadership role in the business community.”
“Become a voice and an advocate for existing businesses and actively recruit new businesses.”
“Be open and transparent in their operations. Communicate continually and interact with members and non-members alike.” (Illustrate the benefits of being a chamber supporter.)
“Involve more people . . . get involved in the community . . . get involved with area chambers . . . listen to your customers.”
“Become more personal and visible in outreaching efforts to the business community and the community at-large.”
“Focus on welcoming visitors and being the “front porch” of the community.”
“Become an organization that Knoxville can be proud of. It has to overcome a lot of history and create trust.”
“The Chamber should serve as the networking hub of the business community.”
“Promote Knoxville and what it has to offer to visitors, residents, and businesses, and tell our story.”
“Return to a Chamber-Director organization. The Director should be a leader, active, energetic, credible, and a person concerned about the whole city not just the downtown area.”
“Be as aggressive as they can in promoting Knoxville. Need visionaries and workers to implement a shared vision and plan.”
“Be the driving force for Knoxville by being proactive, positive, and drawing diverse groups together that are working from the same page.”
“Elicit feedback from the businesses and community to help the city grow and prosper.”
“Do more on the economic development front via various groups. Resurrect KIDC.”
“KIDC should be separate from the Chamber. However, the Chamber should have a seat at the KIDC table.
“Get involved and partner with the Marion County Development Commission (MCDC).”
“Work closely with the City of Knoxville and start solving the downward spiral of population leakage, and clean up the town’s appearance.”
“Get a director that believes in Knoxville and is not afraid to lead.”
“They must address the undercurrents of negativity that’s prevalent in Knoxville.”
“Become knitted in with regional groups. Know what’s going on in the region.”
After conducting the personal interviews and collating the information that was given by the respondents, I believe there are certain things that the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce should focus their energies and efforts on at this juncture.
• Define your purpose and function and formulate a Mission and Vision statement that is succinct but encompassing.
• Communicate . . . Communicate . . . Communicate! With communication comes knowledge and understanding, which are steps necessary for cooperation and collaboration. I believe continual, open communication would go a long way toward increased memberships and volunteers. Listen to you customers and hear their concerns and become their advocate.
• Update office technology and correct the deficiencies of the Chamber web site.
• Be grateful for what we have (businesses), but don’t take them for granted.
• Support current businesses and actively recruit new businesses to our community.
• Partner with the City of Knoxville and promote the idea of cleaning up the community’s environment. Appearances matter in the quality of life and economic development initiatives of a community. Knoxville must become inviting. With its slovenly
appearance the wrong message is being sent to visitors, potential residents, and prospective businesses.
• Promote the Knoxville community and its quality of life.
• Hire a director that is a leader that will be active and visible, energetic, credible, believes in Knoxville and the business community, and will interact with all parties.
• Strongly consider resurrecting KIDC, but keep it separate from the Chamber.
• Be open and transparent with your customers (members and non-members) about your operations and any debt that you may be considering to incur, especially if you decide to hire a director.
• Don’t get bogged down with trivial matters or try to be all things to all people.
• Don’t put your energy in hosting events. However, if you decide to spearhead an event, publicize the activity well before the scheduled date.
• Build your membership by repairing and building relationships with former members and the new businesses in our community; but don’t forget your current members, for bridges need to be built and maintained with them as well.
• Connect with area chambers of commerce. Learn their best practices.
• Connect with regional concerns, i.e., the Iowa Innovation Group.
• Be professional and provide good customer service to all that you interact with.
• Try to achieve seven or eight things and prioritize.
• Continue the “shop local” campaign.
• Address the interior and exterior appearance problems of the Chamber Office.
• Provide training opportunities for office employees (improve their skill sets) and retail businesses.
You’ll notice in the report’s Appendix that I’ve assembled the list according to business categories. One category that requires some additional comments is the major employer group. Not only does each listed entity employ a large number of employees, but their payrolls consist mainly of full-time workers. There are four businesses that also have substantial payrolls with a lot of part-time employees. Although they – Walmart, Fareway, Hy-Vee and the Knoxville Raceway – are not listed in the major employer category, their payrolls are significant and should be acknowledged. As an example, in 2010 the Knoxville Raceway expended $688,000 in wages. I don’t have the figures for Walmart, Hy-Vee and Fareway, but their payrolls and work forces are substantial.
Board of Directors:
Todd Chambers, President Craig Mobley, Vice President Christine Richards, Treasurer
Dick Reed Gary Verwers Randy Chambers
Matt Kissinger Erikka Ter Louw Aimee Benner
Jessie Wilson, Executive Office Coordinator Melinda O’Field, Office Coordinator
External Survey – Businesses
Knoxville Veterinary Clinic Animal Health Center of Knoxville Hackett Family Pet Grooming
Big T Auto/Credit Carrikers Diamond Motor Kars
Motor Inn Mo-To Source (Motorcycles and ATVs)
NAPA O’Reilly’s Romar
Automotive Repair and Service:
Advance Transmission Bill’s & Will’s Automotive Danny Marsh’s Body Shop
Knoxville Alternator Shop L & J Automotive Marion County Auto Body
Raceway Tire & Exhaust Reed’s Automotive Sparks Auto Maintenance & Repair
Super Wash Thompson Shell
Iowa State Savings Bank Valley Bank Wells Fargo
Alla’s Flax Knoxville Barber Shop
Exsalonce Image Design Grand Headlines Karizma Hair Salon
Linda’s Looking Glass Mane Attractions Shear Designs
Verma’s Visions Hair Design Studio
Stepping Stones Early Learning Center
Doty Computers FT Computer Service/Snoop Shop Kadeth Network Solutions
Creative Landscaping Pearson Brothers Const. Spahn & Rose Lumber
Casey’s (N. Lincoln) Casey’s (S. Lincoln) Klines Quick Time
Knoxville 66 Kum & Go (E. Main) Kum & Go (N. Lincoln)
CPA Accounting Services:
Donald Croghan CPA Hunt, Kain & Associates CPA Kevin Wadle CPA
Dental Designs – Holst & Assoc. Dr. Steve Mott, DDS Knoxville Dental Associates
Celebrate Community 1st United Methodist Good Shepherd Lutheran (ELCA)
Living Word Fellowship New Covenant St. Anthony Catholic
Trinity Lutheran (Missouri Synod)
Edward Jones – Kerry Garcia; Matt Kissinger; & Adam Norris Kevin Wadle
Iowa State Savings Bank Investment Services – Joe Cunningham
Bybee & Davis Funeral Home Williams Funeral Home Winfield Funeral Home
Government/Marion County Board of Supervisors/Economic Development:
Sam L. Nichols, Board Chair Craig Agan, Board Member
Marion County Development Commission – Carla Eysink, Director
Fareway Hy-Vee Walmart
Health and Fitness and Sporting:
Anytime Fitness Curves Fairlane Bowl
Hers and His Fitness Knoxville Recreation Center
American Family Insurance Farm Bureau Insurance Knoxville Insurance
Marion County Insurance Assn. McKay Insurance Myers Insurance
State Farm Insurance
Hy-Vee Wine & Spirits Round Window Liquors
Major Employers – Education/City Gov’t/Health Care/Industrial/Manufacturing/Transportation:
City of Knoxville – Dick Schrad, City Manager Hormel – Troy Hawkshead, Plant Manager
Knoxville Hospital & Clinics – Ann Helwig, CEO Knoxville School District – Dr. Randy Flack
Knoxville Raceway – Brian Stickel, Marketing Director Shinn Trucking, Inc. – Mike Shinn
3-M – Greg Couves, Plant Manager Weiler Products – Pat Weiler, President
Knoxville Manufacturing – James Washington, President
KNIA/KRLS Radio – Jim Butler, General Manager
Knoxville Journal-Express – Maureen Miller, Publisher
Bertrand Monuments McCall Monuments
Misc. Health Services:
HCI Care Services (South Central Iowa Hospice) Knoxville Chiropractic
Knoxville Nuclear Medicine
De Heer & Associate Appraisals Habitat for Humanity Helping Hands
Marion County Title Service Iowa State University Extension The Outhouse
Red Carpet Motel Super 8 Motel
Eye Health Solutions Whylie Eye Care Center
Points of Interest – Culture and Recreation:
Art 101 Bessie Spaur Butterfly Garden/Knoxville Federated Garden Club
Ken Locke Football Stadium Knoxville Raceway Marion County Park – Village & Museum
National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum (NSCHoFM) Peace Tree Brewery
Slideways Karting Center
Real Estate Offices:
Iowa Realty Prudential Realty Remax
Coffee Connection Casa Grande Deng’s Garden
DQ Chill & Grill Godfather’s Pizza Hardee’s
Hometown Meats & Deli Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant KFC/Taco Bell
Mr. C’s McDonald’s Pizza Hut
Rib Shack Rick’s Sports Diner Subway
Swamp Fox Bar & Grille Tasos’ Steakhouse Wackos
Barker Implement Candi’s Flowers Chic Boutique
Central Cellular Coast Hardware Dollar General (N. Lincoln)
Dollar General (S. Lincoln) Family Video Farm and Home
Gibson Jewelers Jacobsen Travel Medicap Pharmacy
Nanjotronics (Radio Shack) Next Chapter *Our Town Florist
Plush Pony Shop-A-Holics Skullduggery Tattoos
Smith’s Carpet & Furniture Snoop Shop/FT Computer Sun Shack Tanning & Nails
This, That & Other Treasured Portraits True Value
U.S. Cellular Verizon Village Cleaners
Village Theatre Walmart
Dan’s Village Pump Dingus Lounge Sandals Lounge
Central Iowa Fasteners
External Survey – Individuals
LaVonne Andrew Ralph Capitani Diane Cartwright
Sandra Chrisman Jane Conway Jack Crook
Bob Edwards Carolyn Formanek Elsie Kemp
*I visited with a salesperson at Our Town Florist about two weeks before they closed their door/business.