Spotlight Article: Vice President of Partner Development, Jen Harms

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Short Bio about Jen:

A recent transplant from San Antonio, Texas, Jennifer Harms brings a wealth of Chamber experience to her position. Jen served as President of the Leavenworth-Lansing Chamber of Commerce in Leavenworth, Kansas and Assistant Vice President of Economic Development for the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, Texas. Jen is a graduate of the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and received her Institute for Organization Management (IOM) certification from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. As the spouse to a US Air Force pilot, she has had the opportunity to serve numerous communities and enjoys working with local businesses to ensure their sustained growth is realized through Chamber Partnership.

Q&A Session:

Q: How long have you lived in Columbia?

A: My husband and I moved to Columbia from San Antonio, Texas in August of 2016 due to my husband’s transfer. He is active duty Air Force and stationed at McEntire JNG Base.  I have had the unique opportunity of working for four Chambers in four states, all of which support military communities.  Through my work, my husband and I have been blessed to truly feel like a part of each and every community in which we have lived.

Q: What are some of the most valuable services that chambers provide?

A: Well I may be a little bias as I have chosen the Chamber-industry as my predominant career, for I truly believe the Chamber itself is one of the most valuable tools any community has.  For over a century, Chambers of Commerce across the country have been working on some of the most difficult challenges facing municipalities.  Chambers work with a flexibility that tax-based organizations cannot.  What other organization brings together every perspective across a community, every industry, every size of business, and every generation to work on accomplishing issues that are incredibly broad in nature and to work towards solutions that usually take decades of focus?  As our culture has changed, Chambers have had to adapt like with any business, and I see them being just as critical, if not more so, than 60 years ago in acting as a catalyst for meaningful change for businesses and regions.

Q: What are some of the services the Columbia Chamber offers to its Partners?

A: The Columbia Chamber’s Partner Portal is a powerful tool for our Partners; albeit, perhaps one of the most underutilized assets.  The Portal gives each of our Partners and their employees access to their own account at columbiachamber.com.  Through the Partner Portal, businesses can upload special events, discounts or deals, job opportunities and news releases to the Chamber’s website.  Additionally, Partners can keep their business listing on our website up-to-date and robust.  Our website is visited frequently by one of the most diverse groups of people who are looking for answers within their own community, whether it be opportunities for fun or a service need.  Every Partner is listed and accessible on our website and searchable by keywords.  This assists our Partner businesses be found by those who need since oftentimes, the product or service lines may not be reflected in the name of the business. For any Partner that needs access to their account, just reach out to our team member, Chelsey Allen at callen@columbiachamber.com and she will get you squared away.

Q: How does one become more engaged with the Columbia Chamber?

A: While the Chamber’s events are top-notch and well-attended, a perhaps greater benefit to our Partners are networking opportunities.  Since the invasion of social media, our society has used that as a crutch for relationship building.  As some of our most influential leaders in the community know, they didn’t reach the C-suite through social media, but rather through in-person network development.  The Chamber’s events and our committees provide those opportunities.  While the advantage of participation and return on that time investment may not be immediately apparent, stick to it and you will reap the benefits as a community member and businessperson.  As my mentor always reminded me, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.  We hope that every business person will come to the table and provide their perspectives in helping the Columbia Chamber find solutions for building a greater Midlands.

Q: How is the Columbia Chamber different from other chambers in which you’ve worked?

A: Every community focuses on similar challenges, and it has been more than fascinating to see how differently each community faces those issues.  Workforce development, job growth, and oddly enough, parking constraints have been a top discussion in every community I have worked.  Additionally, due to the military aspect, growing and sustaining the military presence has also been a key focus.   While the issues seem to be similar, working with the Columbia Chamber team these last 10 months has been some of the most rewarding and exciting work that I have done. Our CEO, Carl Blackstone, and the Columbia Chamber Board of Directors have one of the most aggressive and thoughtful visions for how this Chamber needs to adapt and change to be essential for our business community for years to come. Collaboration is a key element.  It is exciting to work in such a proactive environment that is positioning itself to lead some of the most difficult, but necessary conversations. As a military spouse, my time in Columbia will not be permanent, but I find pride in knowing that I am able to work with the Columbia Chamber during this time in its history.

 

Q: As a relative newcomer to Columbia, what are some of your favorite things to do or places to eat in Columbia?

A: One of our favorite things to do is to eat!  We were spoiled in San Antonio with their robust foodie scene and were more than excited with Columbia’s developing and diverse restaurant selection.  We prefer local establishments, especially breweries.  Conquest Brewery is one of our favorites as they have an incredible support of the military with a 25% discount.  It’s nearly unheard of.  Other favorites are River Rat and Swamp Cabbage for their outdoor areas that are dog friendly. Lucky for us, all three are active partners with the Columbia Chamber.  The Columbia region also has great walking and hiking opportunities which we take full advantage of with our dog, Homer (named after the NASA engineer and not the Simpson).

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