Southside Chamber helps small business thrive

By Alex Antilla - Staff Reporter

Small businesses make up a huge portion of the job market and a South King County organization is dedicated to helping them succeed.

"If you took all of the major employers in the state, it still would not equal how many people small businesses employ," said Andrea Reay, president of the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce.

She said the chamber is one of the best assets to small businesses in this region. With more than 330 direct members and more than 560 affiliate organizations, it is one of the most influential parts of economic development in the South Sound region.

But most people don't even know what a chamber of commerce is, let alone what it does, she said.

"Our biggest struggle is expo- sure," Reay said.

Most people think that a chamber of commerce is some form of government, when in reality it is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to helping small businesses survive and thrive in their community, she said.

Seattle Southside helps small businesses by providing benefits and resources to help them run the best they can, Reay said.

"Most small business owners are very good at what they do, but might struggle with other aspects of running a business," Reay said.

One big thing the chamber helps with is marketing and promotion, especially for older business owners who might not be very technologically savvy. It will help owners run social media accounts, run ads in various forms of media and help put together promotional materials, she said.

The chamber is also working on ways to help small businesses compete with nationwide chains, as well as improving the lives of the employees, she said. It is still in the works, but the chamber is working on a way to provide a healthcare plan for its own members.

"We want to provide health- care to our members so they can focus on running their business without worry," Reay said.

The chamber can also pro- vide legal help to its members through its partnership with Legal Shield, a member-based law firm that charges a low monthly fee rather than high hourly fees. According to its website, the chamber can help with estate planning, legal consultations, identity theft issues and more.

She said she sees a very bright future for the South Sound region because the area is growing exponentially and it's exciting.

"In 2016, I would get one to two relocation packet requests per week. Now I get 12-14," she said.

These are all businesses that want to move into the South Sound region. Interestingly, most of these are from Seattle looking for lower property costs and a new environment, rather than ones from out of state, Reay said.

She said the reason for the recent in flux of businesses is caused by "a climate in South King county that is very business friendly." Reay said that officials in this area value and support small business, plus a central position between Seattle and Tacoma

helps contribute to that climate. She said the economic struggles and obstacles in this area

should not be viewed negatively. "Challenges are our opportunity," Reay said. "We believe that if we make a substantial investment in education and work- force development, we can eliminate economic inequalities." She said the chamber also handles economic disputes such as with the light rail expansion. Reay said that chamber officials talk with all parties to come up

with a sensible solution.
"We build a bigger table that

everyone can gather around and be heard," she said.

Reay also said "we are now offering a free, universal membership so there's no barriers for people accessing our services."

The universal membership is for small businesses with fewer than five employees and that have not been a member of the chamber for the past 24 months.

Other memberships they offer, range from the Small Business Classic Membership for businesses with fewer than 20 employees for $315 per year, up to the Premier Diamond Membership for businesses that want the best endorsements and re- sources for $10,500 per year.

You don't need to have employees to join, but you do need to have some form of business even if you are self-employed, according to the chamber's website.

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