The Athens Area Chamber of Commerce has served in Athens for countless years. With its mission being to strengthen its Athens business members through collaboration, engagement and strategic partnerships, the chamber has been able to show and give support to local businesses.
The chamber has led to a diversified array of businesses networked throughout Athens. Dani Underhill, president of Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber businesses have been able to thrive, even amid the pandemic.
“This pandemic has really showcased the importance of a strong network of fabric, and fabric is symbolic in a lot of ways — it helps keep stuff together,” Underhill said. “It also recognizes that one thread is no more important than the other and that the bond is created by weaving it together. That provides the strength and the beauty that fabrics have in the tapestry that the Athens County area has.”
Underhill added amid the pandemic, this “tapestry” has proved to be resilient within the chamber. She said it has shown pride in being able to take the needed steps forward in order to improve businesses. The chamber plans to continue to recognize the importance of interconnectivity, so businesses can continue to build off each other through the pandemic.
Through the importance of building a business, the chamber has been able to contribute to the people of Athens, creating a safer and productive environment. In addition, through supporting a multitude of businesses and nonprofits, Underhill said the chamber has helped the groups to succeed on their missions.
For its members, the chamber hosts Business Before Hours, which allows a chance for members to build networking skills, visibility and connectivity among other members.
As an organization, the chamber also hosts ribbon cuttings for new businesses that are joining the chamber in Athens.
“They do a lot of working to engage the business community with current trends, current events, the general public — just reminding people who are in their community that have local businesses,” Jessica Thomas, Athens Uptown business association chair and co-owner of Brenen’s Coffee Café, said. “They also do training for things that can help with your business. A whole variety of technical skills, computer skills, social media. And it's a good networking tool.”
Thomas added with the chamber, business owners are able to communicate about their current situations, what’s next and how they can help each other.
Laurie McKnight, co-chair of the Ambassador Club and director of Area 14 Workforce Development Board, works with making sure outreach to the business members involved is persistent.
“It's really been a huge boost for my professional career development,” McKnight said. “I think it's allowed me to really get to know the area businesses on a more personal level — where we have the time to discuss things, not where I'm just knocking on their door. That really made a difference for me. It's made me really think about what the businesses need in our area.”
McKnight added this is especially important when focusing on how to keep businesses thriving amid the pandemic.
Underhill, Thomas and McKnight are three of many members who are working to create a strong representation of the business atmosphere in Athens. They encourage anyone to get involved by supporting local businesses or reaching out to them through the chamber’s website.