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Oak Ridge Chamber Celebrates Small Businesses

Organization offers a variety of tools to help business owners succeed.

By Kevin Litwin on July 14, 2022

The ExtraORdinary Evening Awards Gala in Oak Ridge, TN
Linda Ripley

The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce has a membership of 530, and 57% of its members are businesses with 20 or fewer employees. When you add in nonprofits, that number climbs to 68%.

“We are very fortunate to have a number of large employers in the community that support the Chamber, but we also want to acknowledge the importance of our small businesses,” says Christine Michaels, Oak Ridge Chamber president and CEO. “I started with this Chamber in November 2020, and we’ve been adding to our small business programming ever since the middle of 2021.”

Michaels says one of the more popular programs for small-business owners and managers is The Bridge, which started during the pandemic because people couldn’t attend the longstanding in-person Rise & Shine breakfasts.

The Bridge is an online Zoom call from 8:30 to 9 a.m. every Tuesday and features speakers on a variety of topics such as business, government, tourism and economic development.

“The Bridge is easy for people at home or their place of business to hop on for an informative and interesting call every Tuesday,” she says. “Attendance is still very good on these weekly calls.”

Honoring Small Businesses in Oak Ridge

A relatively new Chamber program, Small Business of the Month, recognizes successful businesses of 50 or fewer employees that give back to the community.

Monthly winners must be Chamber members and can be self-nominated for the award or nominated by someone in the community.

“At the end of the calendar year, one of those winning businesses is then named Small Business of the Year,” she says. “That recognition takes place at our annual Awards Gala in January.”

Networking and Much More

Another new program called Small Business Networking began in October 2021 and takes place from 8 to 9 a.m. every second Thursday. The in-person breakfast is followed by about 30 to 40 members introducing themselves to one another, a great way to network before heading to work.

The Chamber also organizes a Primetime business expo every October. In addition, a new training program called HR Series takes place every other month as a partnership with the Oak Ridge Human Resource Association to provide advice to member businesses on how to recruit new employees and address other staffing issues.

“We also have a Tennessee Small Business Development Center housed in our Chamber building, and the building has the University of Tennessee, Center for Industrial Services (CIS), Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), that helps small businesses expand into government contracting opportunities,” Michaels says.

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