Business climate promising, business leaders say

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

After a lean few years when cities were seeing storefronts close, leaders of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights business communties see a promising future.

The recession that struck the nation in 2007 hit many companies and businesses hard. They were forced to shut doors, leading to many layoffs. But the corner has been turned, and the same companies forced to make drastic cuts are now growing.

Dearborn Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Gearing said she was encouraged by the growth of business in the city. She said after “weathering the storm” of cutbacks and reductions, businesses have emerged more efficient, and armed with better business models.

“We’re hearing that the business climate in the city is improving,” she said, “but we have a long way to go.”

Much of that newfound confidence was reflected in the results of a late 2011 business walk-about. Pairing city leaders and chamber staff in teams of 12, the on-foot survey revealed that out of 105 locations visited, about 89 percent reported that business was okay or better, which resulted in profit and consumer traffic increase.

“They were forced to tighten their belts and introduced new cost-cutting measures,” Gearing said. “They’re working off a much more efficient business model.”

The story is similar in Dearborn Heights, where Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wendy Fichter said the business climate also improved. She said new and existing businesses have expressed interest in joining the chamber, but she did not specify the companies. Positive business reports, increased attendance at chamber functions and reports from many companies claiming they had their best year ever are signs of promise, she said, but some of that optimism comes with a degree of faith.

“People talk and say they’ve had their best year ever,” Fichter said, “but they don’t compare it to anything, so we have to go on their word for it.”

Concentrating on marketing and public relations, which the chamber has used to help small businesses gain greater exposure, has attracted more customers, but the organization is also pushing for more local business support from residents, including a pledge to donate $68 out of every $100 to the community.

To further get maximum exposure for members, the chamber plans to merge with Dearborn’s chamber in 2012. The scheduled merger allows both to share services and increases Dearborn Heights Chamber membership from 150 to 650. As part of the merger, both chambers will share the Dearborn Visitor & Welcome Center, on the first floor in Bryant Library, 22100 Michigan Ave.

Fichter and Gearing said they are looking forward to working with each other in a mutually beneficial relationship. Gearing said allowing the Dearborn Heights Chamber access to a full-time staff is one of a number of ways Dearborn Heights can increase business and that she is looking forward to working with Fichter.

“It is a natural fit,” Gearing said.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com)

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