Trevor Crafton
Trevor Crafton
As 2013 comes to a close, the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce is reporting a 20 percent increase in membership this year.

Trevor Crafton, the chamber's executive director, said Monday that the organization went from 292 members in 2012 to 365 this year. There about 700 business in Jefferson County.

The numbers and membership information were released during recent city and county government meetings.

Crafton said the chamber's goal this year was to recruit and retain members, adding that his staff did an "exceptional job" of reaching that goal.

The chamber used weekly emails plus phone calls and newsletters to reach out to new businesses and existing chamber members. He said the idea was to focus on one specific aspect of the chamber and not overstretch themselves - something he said frequently happened in the chamber's past.

Judging from the numbers, Crafton said so far the plan has worked.

"It was implementing those ideas and following up on them again and again," he said.

About 40 percent of the chamber members are downtown merchants, while another 40 percent are from the hilltop. About 20 percent of chamber members are in the county or from the surrounding areas. Ninety-five percent of all memberships are considered small businesses.

The influx in membership has been a welcomed change from where the chamber was 20 months ago. Crafton said in early 2012, the chamber gave "serious consideration" to closing its doors.

But things have since taken a positive turn.

As membership grows, the chamber also has expanded its events, most notable being the annual Soup, Stew, Chili and Brew. From 2012 to 2013, the event grew from 3,000 visitors to more than 5,500 visitors.

The other annual events include the annual chamber dinner - set for Jan. 22 at Hanover College next year - the annual golf scramble and the regional business exposition.

"This community has been very warm and welcoming about giving us feedback," Crafton said.

Also in 2013, the chamber again took an active role in the Southeastern Indiana Business Development Center. The center provides economic impact studies for the county. Through September, the SIBDC reported $1.9 million of total capital in Jefferson County as a result of SIBDC partnerships. The center also counseled 88 clients in the community.

With the added membership in 2014, Crafton said the chamber plans to continue on the road to retention and continue surveying local residents about business needs.

For instance, this year a chamber survey polled residents about what types of businesses they would like to see in Madison. The results showed that 53 percent wanted fine dining, while 39 percent saw a need for a recreational or sports store.

In addition to continuing the surveys, Crafton said the chamber plans to take a political role in the community, focusing on issues important to business owners.

Already, Crafton has taken part in a community task force that paved the way for creating a $40 million referendum to renovate Madison Consolidated Schools' buildings. The referendum will be on the ballot in the May primary.

He also said the chamber supports the formation of a steering committee for vision and action plan for Madison and Jefferson County.

Crafton said while the chamber does not have specific political issues in mind for next year, he wants to be able to support and help small business owners who may not have the time or resources to get involved with local issues.

"If we're going to be the voice of business, we need to stand up and be the voice of business. And not just use that as a slogan," he said.