No recession shadow at chamber event
David Nash had a point.
“No one around here is moping,” said the former president of the Central Rhode Island Chamber who was also a founder of the annual statewide Business After Hours held Tuesday at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet.
Indeed, the ongoing recession showed no signs of casting a shadow on the event that attracted 117 vendors and more than 1,000 people. The place was packed and there was the constant hum of conversation as people moved from one display to another.
“I don’t believe there’s any difference; there’s the same zest and enthusiasm,” said Nash. As he found more than a decade ago, Nash said there’s an entrepreneurial spirit and feeling that “we’re just going to get through it together.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson agreed. As a businesswoman, she has been attending the event since 1999.
“It was always very busy,” she said.
Vella-Wilkinson, however, concluded there is a difference beyond the fact that attendance has grown.
“It looks to me that there are a lot of younger people around,” she said.
Nash thought it might also have something to do with the growth of new businesses.
“Technology is driven by younger people,” he said.
One of those “newer” companies and a first-time exhibitor was Brave River Solutions, which is located on Centerville Road in Warwick. Brave River provides software selection, consulting and technological services for distribution, manufacturing and marketing, among other activities.
Adina Downing, sales and marketing associate for the company, was busy answering questions mostly about Brave River’s Internet marketing division. She said there is a high level of interest in social media marketing and that Brave River has expanded in recent months, adding three technicians, for a total staff of 24.
“It’s a very niche technology,” she said of their work, “and there’s not a large pool to recruit from. You’ve got to work to find them, but they’re out there.”
As for the state of the market, she said Brave River is experiencing inquiries from start-ups and well-established companies anxious to expand business on the Internet. On the lower end of the scale, Downing said, for example, Brave River can design a custom Facebook page for a client not ready for a more sophisticated website. She put that cost at $400 to $500.
At the adjoining booth, Gina Pereira and Domenica Santilli talked during a lull in the traffic. Both are Centreville Bank branch managers and both have staffed the bank’s display in prior events.
Neither expected to gain new business from the show but that doesn’t mean they didn’t think it worthwhile. They get to see customers they know and they promoted Centreville.
As for the state of business in the state, Pereira said, “it’s depressing how hard you have to work.” But she finds that’s what people are doing. “They’re more creative, they think out of the box.”
Some of those attending were neither members of chambers nor businesses that had paid $150 to have a presence at the show.
“It’s a good way to connect with the community,” said Geraldine Peixoto, who works in the development office at CCRI. She said the show provided her with “new ideas and opportunities to help our students.”
It was an out of the box thought or, maybe better put, challenge that resulted in creating the event, as Phil Slocum recalls.
Slocum, whose wife Lauren is president of the Central Rhode Island Chamber and worked with Nash, remembers how Nash thought the joint chamber after hours gathering was a great idea but would be difficult to pull off. Lauren thought she could do it. She did.
Nash said the event proves that, through collaboration, there is success; by working together, all can benefit.
With virtually all of the state’s chambers participating, Lauren was ecstatic with the event that was started in 1998.
“If we all work together, everybody benefits,” she said.
During the show, she was busy racing between the participating chambers and vendors, solving problems.
One issue was finding enough parking.
“There are too many people,” she said with a wide smile.