If you’re a new employer in the Colorado Springs business community, Emma Mitchell can help you find your place.
Mitchell found hers when she joined the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC as its member relations manager in January 2020. There, she is the go-to person for events planning and facilitating networking events for the Chamber’s roughly 1,350 member-businesses.
Born and raised in Michigan, Mitchell earned a dual degree in fashion marketing management and management from Northwood University in 2009. After many years using her degrees in the fields of retail and real estate, Mitchell took a leap of faith when she moved out west to Colorado in early 2018.
She joined the chamber during a time when many businesses have needed its support more than ever as they navigate the new waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health crisis has caused massive job losses and business closures, along with a slew of new legal questions regarding health and safety in the workplace. Mitchell is adept at connecting employers with the resources that can offer them answers.
In addition to her work with the Chamber, Mitchell also sits on the boards of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, the Pikes Peak Business & Education Alliance and the Rotary Club of East Colorado Springs. Soon, she also plans to launch her own small business.
She sat down with the Business Journal to talk about how she juggles it all.
Talk about what a member relations manager does.
My job is really taking care of our members. What that entails is I do a lot of the events and event planning. That includes the Chamber Connects and Business After Hours events, which we’re not doing right now because of COVID. We were doing a small business roundtable that included business briefings. There are a lot of different events I work on that are smaller in scope as well, but they happen more frequently than our larger events. I still manage those but they have gone virtual, of course, but sometimes we do hybrid events where we do a mix of virtual and in-person. We’re hoping to get back to those in the next month or so.
I also spend a lot of time working our different committees. I manage our Diversity in the Workplace committee and our Small Business Advisory Council and the Franchise Focus Group. All of those committees have different scopes — what they do and what they’re focused on. The Small Business Advisory Council is really trying to focus on what small businesses need right now, resources and events, things like that. There are some promotional videos that we’ve put out and some FAQ videos answering questions about legal issues surrounding the pandemic. For example, we did one about PPP loans. We’re just trying to get information out to business owners in a quick way that points them in the right direction.
What sorts of legal questions have business owners been asking during the pandemic?
One was about whether they could require their employees to take the vaccine. There was also some talk about the new employment laws that came out in the beginning of the year and what those entail and what people should be looking for when they talk to their providers. There’s a lot of information coming out that small businesses don’t know about or they can’t keep up with, so we’re always working on how to get this information in front of these folks that may not know and really need to know.
Your degree and background are in marketing. How did you end up working for a chamber of commerce?
My degree is in fashion marketing and management. So I did retail for a little bit and then I did commercial real estate marketing for many years. Then I moved out here. For probably three or four years, I was really trying to find my way. What do I actually want to do? What do I like? What don’t I like and where do I see myself? I did a lot of talking with different people about what they did, and then I wrote down exactly what my strengths were.
This role came from a referral and kind of just fell into my lap. I was referred to this position at the exact right time. It’s exactly what I wanted to do, which is managing events and connecting people to each other and sharing my knowledge about the community. I still do a lot of marketing in my role by trying to talk to members and getting information out to them. But I would say more of it has to do with relationship management.
How have you continued connecting businesses and getting information out to them during the pandemic?
I think one of the biggest ways we’ve continued to serve the business community is through our committees. Those have been really good connectors for people because, as they work together to complete a task or start a project, they’re creating bonds that you wouldn’t otherwise have. When I talk to people — whether I’m calling them on a renewal or just generally — I try to listen to see what they need. What’s going to help you in your business or your personal or professional life? And then I use my knowledge of this community to connect them to the right person. We’re also doing virtual events, but it’s not the same. At first we were doing breakout rooms with networking sessions and stuff, but from my experience, it didn’t seem like people wanted to do it that way as much. In the beginning of the pandemic, we did something called “COS Live,” which was focused on getting local business owners to do things based on a theme, like Mindfulness Monday or Thirsty Thursday, where we’d have like a distillery or a restaurant do something special and then we’d have people chat about it. We did that for about a month and a half because everyone was trying to figure out how to save our businesses, our restaurants in particular.
What do you hear from business owners now? Are they starting to get into the flow of running their businesses during the public health crisis?
I think it’s all across the map. Some people have pivoted, where they realized they were doing their business one way and had to adapt in certain ways to do it another way because of the pandemic. But what I hear from a lot of business consultants and people who work with other businesses is they say they’re really struggling with being able to plan for the future as well. You used to be able to forecast a little more clearly — say, five years. Even forecasting six months is really difficult right now. Some industries are doing fine, like cybersecurity and IT. But these restaurants, while they’re getting into the flow of how to do things, it’s still not great at this point. If you’re still operating at 50 percent capacity, you still have overhead costs and everything else that you’re trying to cover like you did before. One of the things that I’ve been hearing a lot lately is, ‘When we start to get employees back into the office, what does that look like? Can we bring everybody back in? How are we going to handle the new safety protocols? Are people going to be scared to come back in? What if they don’t want the vaccine?’ There are so many questions that I’ve been hearing lately and there are still a lot of unknowns that you just have to tackle month-by-month I guess.
You also sit on several boards. How do you make the time to do it all? What motivates you?
I like to give back to the community, and I always have. For me, I build strong connections when I’m involved in different organizations. I just love the missions of these organizations and I want to help them educate more people about what they’re doing. As far as time for extra work, I just figure it out, I guess. I’m an efficient worker. I like to make lists of what I need to do and set a lot of reminders for myself. Outside of work, I’ll work on things for the boards. It’s also a good opportunity to represent my employer. The more people who understand what the Chamber is doing, the better we can help the community.
I’m also working on launching my own business. I love to cook. I’m not classically trained, but I’ve cooked for a long time, so I’m launching a business to teach people how to cook — people who have little to no experience. I just think it’s so important to know how to cook, to eat healthier and to also build connections with people — family, friends. It’s about teaching people how to cook in their own home.