Dowagiac Chamber membership coordinator seeks business symbiosis

Published 10:30 am Friday, April 8, 2022

DOWAGIAC — Symbiosis in nature occurs when organisms form partnerships to create a mutually-beneficial environment ripe for innovation and expansion. 

If new Chamber of Commerce Membership Coordinator Eileen Crouse has her way, all new and future Chamber businesses will achieve business symbiosis, and be able to rely on one another for support. Through her position, she hopes to stand on the shoulders of those who came before her and help lift the community one rung higher.

“What this position was created for is to connect with our current members, find out about their businesses, and about what the chamber might do for them,” Crouse said. “Then, taking that information and providing resources and member benefits. From there, I can use those benefits to reach out to new people about joining, because really what a Chamber is, is a collective.”

Crouse, who previously worked as a Case Manager at Sprenger Health Care and various management positions at Southwestern Michigan College, recognizes that many Chamber members are solo business owners or a small group of people, and wants to help them connect with other members to allow for sharing of resources and marketing collaboration. 

As an example, Crouse mentioned how rental properties The Altus Apartment, 1870 House and The Hatch Street Manor all joined forces for Stay Dowagiac, which promotes all three rentals in one place. 

“That wasn’t the Chamber’s idea, it was their own idea,” Crouse said. “But if we can be collaborative like that instead of competitors, that’s how we can grow. … We can put together advertising, sponsorship opportunities, share posts on Facebook, things like that.”

Many business owners, Crouse said, often are experts in their trade but may lack in other areas, such as tax law or insurance or something else. One of the projects Crouse has been thinking about is creating a chamber directory where members can easily refer to different resources within the organization.

“Just by connecting members – having someone who has learned the hard way what another business doesn’t know – we can have a mentor or colleague who can point you in the right direction,” Crouse said. “Everyone is so busy, working so hard growing their business and surviving, that the ability to get out and connect with each other is just very, very difficult.”

Crouse said she is also looking to expand the Chamber membership into mobile businesses, or work-from-home businesses like artists. 

“If some of these businesses want to have a staff meeting, or do a presentation, they can come use the Chamber conference space as a member,” she said. “These are the different types of benefits that exist.”

Crouse made sure to give credit to recently-retired Vickie Phillipson. In addition to her responsibilities as program director for the Chamber, Phillipson was instrumental in bringing many businesses to Downtown Dowagiac, as well making the city an attractive place for new businesses as part of the Downtown Development Authority. Phillipson retired this year after 31 years with the Chamber and DDA.

“Without a doubt, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” said Crouse, who joins the Chamber with new events and marketing coordinator Matt Money. “If Vickie had not put in her 30-plus years getting these events to the point where they run themselves and getting this huge membership for a town this size, we wouldn’t be able to do this. She did it all herself, and now we get to come in and use her work as a springboard.”

Crouse’s part-time position was created prior to Phillipson’s retirement in order to provide relief to some of Philipson’s membership duties, while Money will be handling events and other tasks.

“It just so happens that there’s two new people who are really geeked up for this opportunity,” Crouse said. “Around here, we all really believe the rising tide lifts all boats.”