Addressing challenges faced by small-town community businesses and the community itself are top priorities for Lowell’s new Chamber of Commerce leader.
Shannon Kennedy, the newly-appointed executive director of the Chamber, is learning what Lowell businesses face and is gearing up to steer the Chamber forward.
Kennedy has been leading the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce only since mid-January but is not a stranger to the community. Having grown up in Lowell, it was a homecoming for her to return and re-root herself here.
With more than 20 years of marketing experience, Kennedy is a Grand Valley State University and Lowell High School graduate. She was first made aware that the Chamber was looking for a new leader from the former director of almost 30 years, Liz Baker. Kennedy was working at National Nail in Grand Rapids when she applied for the position.
Both Kennedy and her husband not only hailed from the area but also had their wedding ceremony on the landmark Lowell Showboat. Settling back in their hometown 16 years ago after living in Grand Rapids was a very comfortable decision.
“I believe my background in marketing and event management was key in the selection process and being from Lowell certainly helped,” she says.
Kennedy says one of the biggest benefits to being a Chamber member is showcasing your support of the community. Membership helps support the Riverwalk Festival, Summer Concert Series, and Christmas through Lowell, and all of these opportunities bring people to Lowell.
Member businesses can submit upcoming events to the Chamber newsletter, have their information shared on social media, and take advantage of the business directory. Kennedy saya Chamber members have opportunities to problem-solve, network and share leads.
“If there is a business looking to grow within Lowell, then being a Chamber member is a great way to start,” she notes.
Kennedy says one of the most important issues facing Lowell is hiring and retaining employees. This is true not only for larger corporations, but also the Main Street storefronts.
“A lot of our stores maybe want to have extended hours but don’t have the staff to open up that extra day or stay open longer,” she says.
Kennedy believes networking is the biggest opportunity that is being underutilized by Chamber members. Monthly breakfast meetings and other regular events are available for the 350 member businesses. Kennedy says they are well attended, but she would like to see new faces.
Lowell is a place with a lot of opportunity to expand, but growth could not occur without challenges, she says.
“We embrace new businesses as they open,” Kennedy explains. “Lowell is an awesome place to open a business and to thrive, but we’re also at a point where we’re kind of running out of spaces downtown.”
“We need to be able to think differently about how and where we expand. I think that is going to be important.”
Turning the community on to doing more local shopping and utilizing local businesses is important, she adds. Kennedy is hopeful that in the future she will help develop marketing campaigns to showcase everything Lowell has to offer.
She says a great foundation has been laid by her predecessor that can be built upon.
“All the work that’s been done before me has been amazing, but how do we dial that up a notch?” she asks.
Kennedy hopes for the opportunity to get out more in the community and hear feedback from business and community members. She would like to tour different facilities and stores and hear directly from merchants.
The Chamber is in the early stages of updating its marketing programs and thinking of ways to better accentuate current resources. Kennedy would like to reach deeper into Lowell’s larger organizations to support professional development, create educational opportunities, and bring small groups together to brainstorm tough topics and share successes.
“Certainly we’ve been the ‘Next Place To Be’ for a number of years, but what does that look like going forward?” she wonders.
“There are a number of people within the community who would say, ‘We’re not the next place to be anymore. We are the place to be.’ “
As a long-time marketing professional, Kennedy knows that she needs community input in order to move Lowell forward.
“I don’t want to design anything in a bubble,” she explains. “I want to hear from our members, hear from the community — pull together a group of individuals to really be able to speak into that.”
Kennedy knows her first step is to ask questions and listen to answers. She does not plan to make any major changes in the immediate future.
“My priority in year one is to listen and learn from our current members and the community,” she says. “I need to know how their business needs are changing so we can adapt our services accordingly.”