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Greenwich Chamber of Commerce celebrates 100th in 2017

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Greenwich may get a lot of press about being one of the best, and most expensive, places to live in the state. But is it particularly business-friendly? 

According to Marcia O’Kane, president and CEO of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, it is — in no small part because of the chamber’s activities.

“The stereotype is that Greenwich is full of rich people,” O’Kane said at her office at 45 E. Putnam Ave. “Don’t get me wrong — we certainly do have rich people. But we also have a lot of other income types. And the fact remains that at least 25 percent of new companies end up either moving away or going out of business.”

That’s where the chamber comes in. O’Kane said that while many chambers are essentially ceremonial in nature — “You join because you think you’re supposed to, and that’s it” — Greenwich’s actively tries to give its members help and advice whenever possible.

“We can definitely help with the fundamentals,” said O’Kane, whose resume includes financial industry executive positions at such firms as Brown Brothers Harriman, the Royal Bank of Canada and Fairfield County Bank. “I’ve been known to give some advice to someone before asking them to join us.”

Her financial background came in handy when she took over the Greenwich chamber in 2011, only to find it “nearly bankrupt” and consisting mainly of aging board members and business owners. In a town where “companies are coming and going all the time,” she said, she has been able add about 100 new members in each of the five years since, to the point where the chamber’s membership now stands at about 525. 

“We are absolutely financially solid,” O’Kane added.

Underlying the chamber’s efforts is O’Kane’s “APCE” philosophy: advocate, promote, connect and educate. “Anyone with a successful business will tell you that networking is critical,” she said, “and APCE represents the perfect way to achieve that.”

O’Kane also has a half-hour radio show on WGCH-AM on the third Monday of each month. Although she uses that platform to promote the chamber’s activities, she said she also usually features one of the group’s members to provide insight and advice about best practices.

The chamber offers value for its membership fees, which range from $360 for an individual to $2,350 for companies with over 201 employees, with its well-received annual Community and Member-to-Member Resource Guide as well as about 30 events each year, ranging from sidewalk sales and golf outings to cocktail parties for new members and meetings with city officials.

The biggest event will arrive in the new year, when the Greenwich chamber kicks off a year-long celebration of its 100th anniversary with a Jan. 26 cocktail celebration at Betteridge Jewelers at 239 Greenwich Ave. Among other centennial events in the planning stages, a Greenwich Chamber of Commerce Day will be proclaimed by Town of Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei on July 31, the group’s actual centenary.

“We’ve been working on this for about five months now,” O’Kane said. “We’d like to have a big celebration involving some of our ‘classics’ — former board members and other people who have been so important to the city.”

Researching the project, O’Kane was surprised to find a photograph dating roughly from the turn of the 20th century, depicting Greenwich Avenue as a two-way street trodden mostly by horse-and-carriages.

“We have such a rich history, both as a city and when it comes to the chamber,” she said. “Not commemorating our 100th anniversary would have been a great mistake.”

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