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Gill has accelerated change at Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce

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Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:49 pm

A knack for moving things forward may be the most important skill Anne Gill brought with her to the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce when she became president and chief executive officer of the chamber in November 2011.

When she arrived the chamber had a number of sensible ideas kicking around; though, some of them had been in discussion for more than three years.

One of those ideas was the Ahwatukee Chamber Charity Foundation (ACCF) — a way for the chamber to help Ahwatukee residents as well as chamber members.

“The concept for the foundation was originally started by Anne’s predecessor... but we weren’t able to actually get it off the ground,” said Darin Fisher, a chamber board member and owner of Vision Community Management. “Anne was... the impetus to get the ball across the goal line.”

The foundation will award is first $5,000 scholarship to an Ahwatukee high school senior in a few weeks.

ACCF is the charity arm of the chamber and gives members a way to give to the community directly. The foundation got its official designation as a 501(c)(3) about a year ago, said Gill, which allows donations to be deducted as charitable contributions rather than business expenses. The chamber itself is a 501(c)(6).

Improving the chamber’s website was another idea that also had a long incubation period before it actually came to fruition, said Gill.

“It had been kind of on the back-burner,” she said.

Improving the website, however, was definitely something that Gill said she knew needed to be done.

The old site was just a listing of member information and didn’t allow members to make any changes, said Nick Knight, a chamber member for three years and owner of Nick the Computer Guy.

The new website showcases member businesses much better and allows members to login and update their information whenever they want, Knight said.

“That is an absolutely huge improvement,” he said.

In addition to bringing existing ideas across the finish line, Gill said she has encouraged board members to think about new ideas.

Within the first two months of being hired, Gill scheduled a planning and strategic retreat for the chamber’s 16-board members — since then the board has been expanded to 18 members.

“That really helped set the mission and the vision,” Gill said, adding that it helped uncover a lot of opportunities where the chamber could improve programs and services.

One thing the retreat did was get board members thinking about Ahwatukee’s lack of a central main street, Gill said.

“Ahwatukee doesn’t necessarily have that main street that a lot of communities, and cities do.”

So Gill and the board members decide to do the next best thing: they created a virtual main street.

Since March 2012, a section on the Ahwatukee Foothills News’ website has become the chamber’s virtual main street. The area on the website is dedicated to chamber events and member businesses.

In addition, every other Sunday there is a section in AFN’s print edition that summarizes the chamber’s news.

“For us to create that visibility within the community is so important,” said Gill. “And reminding the community that these business owners are your neighbors.”

Good old-fashioned, in-person visibility is also one of Gill’s strengths, according to Kendra Fleetwood, board member and co-owner of CK’s Tavern and Grill.

Gill is networking, pushing events, and getting sponsors nearly everyday, said Fleetwood.

“She is really out there, door-to-door, trying to get people involved,” Fleetwood said.

Giving board members a chamber business card was one of Gill’s ideas, added Fleetwood. It gets members excited about being on the board, and also about supporting each other.

“One of the biggest things is her support of the community through the big events, working side-by-side with other business owners,” said Lindy Cash, a board member and co-owner of Foothills Ace Hardware.

Gill said membership at the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce is up more than 10 percent from last year, and that small and large businesses are working together.

“Even though they are competitive, the business community is very collaborative,” she said.

• Christopher Leone is a graduate student from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.

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