Five years ago this week, I started my dream job as Executive Director of this Chamber of Commerce.  It seems like just yesterday when I started, yet I cannot remember when I wasn’t doing this day in and day out.

Perhaps that speaks to my life-long point of view, focused on the intersection of community, small business and professional service, regardless of what job I have held throughout my career.  From a young age, I was taught that small business is hard. I learned to look for signs of success – and trouble.

One spring break, our family of seven dined at a road side Ponderosa, featuring a $7.95 all-you-can-eat buffet.  My dad challenged us to beat the system by each eating $8.00 worth of food. What followed was a lecture about food costs and the importance of pricing over our piled-high plates of very bad beef.  I think I was twelve at the time.

My mother’s aunt had a keen eye for retail.  She measured crowds at the mall not by the sheer number of people, but by the number of people carrying bags.  I was taught to observe the number of employees versus customers whenever I walk into a business.

Small business is hard.  Margins are thin. Time is scarce.  The work is relentless. Personal risks are high.  Nights spent poring over sales reports are lonely. But true small business owners wouldn’t have it any other way.

And so it is with your Chamber of Commerce.  The Board and staff here are committed to support our small business community, working as hard at our job as our members do at theirs.

We are making progress.  In the past five years, we’ve grown membership from 300 to 500.  We’ve tripled our revenue. Doubled our staff. Increased our monthly programs from two to twelve and added six annual special events.  Restarted our advocacy and information services. Developed partnerships with the local governments and other business-oriented organizations.  Created five sector-based affinity groups. Built a vibrant, networked small business community within our larger community.

Five years and counting.  It has been a good run, but the race never ends.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...