River Region Chamber grows into force over 10 years

Published 8:39 am Saturday, June 28, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

LAPLACE — What started with a handful of common-thinking business people, a string of temporary offices and a single part-time employee has grown in 10 years to become a unifying voice in the River Parishes and an impactful force in Baton Rouge and Washington D.C.

The River Region Chamber of Commerce celebrated 10 years of serving the business communities in St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes June 20 at Cypress Lakes Country Club. It wasn’t time passing that members were proudest of but the fact the organization currently serves 245 businesses, representing approximately 14,000 employees in the River Parishes.

That wasn’t destined in the stars according to founding member and original chairman Conley Dutreix, who said the group began as a separate committee representing the River Region in the greater New Orleans Chamber.

“The feeling was we needed more self representation,” Dutreix said. “Basically, we were being used by an organization where most of the results of that organization were used in the greater New Orleans area. The River Region was not obtaining a proper response from the funds that were being put into that organization. The people that were involved did not feel like their voices were actually being heard.”

Dutreix said a small study committee was put together to explore a River Region chamber that quickly moved from 10 people to 35 or 40 when the Chamber formed.

The Chamber’s business leaders needed a dedicated employee to get things going, and the hope was the person would embody direction, leadership and the knowledge of a local resident.

They were fortunate to find Chassity McComack, Dutreix said, adding she started as a part-time employee, working out of his branch office in LaPlace and a couple more locations in a couple more of the members’ offices before the Chamber got its own location in November of 2005.

McComack, who today serves as executive director, was a stay-at-home mom 10 years ago who had a desire to get back into the working world. 

A part-time administrative assistant position with The River Region Chamber was the result.

“After a few months of the normal routine tasks, I gained a new appreciation for our great region we call the River Parishes,” McComack said.

“The experience helped me gain a greater understanding of tri-parish opportunities and how important promoting regionalism between the three provided to businesses and its citizens that live in these communities.”

She remembers asking the founding leadership how long the Chamber would be here because there was initially no office or even a computer.

“Like many small businesses, we’ve had our challenges,” McComack said. “It was in the third year that I stopped asking that question and just knew the Chamber had made its place and was going to be here to stay. And it’s because of our business climate that I can confidently state that. Business is here to stay and grow and will continue to do so with the support of business leaders ensuring their voice is heard.”

Dutreix said one of the Chamber’s biggest accomplishments began in 2006 with roundtable meetings among each individual parish. Their purpose was to determine and prioritize the significant issues within each parish and those issues that are significant for the entire region.

The series of early meetings, which continue today, were attended by industry, business, education and medical personnel from each parish, according to Dutreix.

“It actually provided the impetus for what has subsequently been taken on by each of the parishes and the region as a whole,” Dutreix said.

“I think we set the parameters (in those early meetings) under which we will proceed and go forward. It is an ongoing process and is something that is constantly being upgraded.”

McComack said today the Chamber serves as the largest business organization for the tri-parish area.

“Some businesses may feel they can’t afford the investment, but my response is, you can’t afford to not be a member,” she said. “From the Office Depot discount program to the various business seminars and networking opportunities, membership with your local Chamber of Commerce is essential to their business bottom line.”