Programs galore boost local businesses of all sizes
Local business leaders and entrepreneurs know a place where they can get all the support they need, and then some – and that’s the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. The organization helps everyone from visionaries just starting to develop business ideas and products to existing Fortune 500 companies located here.
How One Local Small Business Got Rolling
One of the recent small business/entrepreneur success stories in McAllen is a company called Rolling With Cream, a unique ice cream store venture of business partners Mark Lewis and Andrew Gomez. Rolling With Cream’s product is a style of ice cream that originated in Thailand, explains Lewis.
“On a flat, frozen cooking sheet, ice crystals are moved through cream and we can add any ingredients a customer might want, like Oreos, M&Ms, cookies and so forth,â€ Lewis says. “Everything is flattened and then rolled, and five rolls go into a cup and then are drizzled with more toppings. It’s a really rich, delicious ice cream, not like anything you’ve ever had.â€
Lewis says chamber officials thought he had a good business idea and suggested in 2017 that he enter the annual McAllen Business Plan Competition, a chamber initiative created to foster new business development in the McAllen MSA. The competition awards $7,500 annually to an applicant who presents the best business plan.
“I worked hard on that competition and won it, and now our Rolling With Cream store is established across from Cinemark Hollywood USA movie theater on W. Nolana Avenue,â€ Lewis says. “The $7,500 from the chamber competition went to a storefront sign and a large refrigerator we needed. Today, we have 12 employees and are already looking to open a second location.â€
Valuable Tools: SizeUp McAllen & McAllen Economic Pulse
McAllen Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Ahlenius says businesses of all sizes now have a place to do critical market research on their competition, assess marketing efforts and options, and ultimately create strategies to increase profit margins. The online resource is called SizeUp McAllen, and it’s free to use.
“One of the programs we provide to the business community is SizeUp McAllen, an online market research tool that shows business owners how to make more money, outperform their competition and find the best places to advertise,â€ Ahlenius says. “The tool provides many of the same demographic, industry, geographic, business, transportation and cost of business data that large corporations use, and we provide it at no cost.â€
Another online resource the Chamber provides is the McAllen Economic Pulse, a report that includes concisely presented monthly and annual data about the local economic climate, including monthly and annual Hidalgo Bridge crossings between the U.S. and Mexico, airline passenger boardings at McAllen-Miller International Airport, retail sales, new home permits, dollars spent on auto purchases and much more.
“The chamber is also involved in business development programs such as Lunch and Learn, McAllen Business Expo, Buy McAllen and the McAllen Top 5 Small Business Awards,â€ Ahlenius adds.
Calling All Creators
As has been the case with Rolling With Cream’s founders, local entrepreneurs, innovators and smaller companies can look to the chamber for many programs to help them grow.
One is McAllen Food Truck Park, which helps food entrepreneurs develop their food concepts and test the marketplace to establish reasonable pricing.
“We also schedule a monthly I&E Network Meeting for inventors and entrepreneurs to get together at the chamber office and discuss individual accomplishments and road blocks on moving their projects to market,â€ Ahlenius says. “Another program we back is Latina Hope Network, which helps Spanish speaking entrepreneurs move their new business idea or small business to a more tangible point, and that program is conducted in Spanish.â€
Yet another chamber initiative is 1 Million Cups, a monthly meeting for entrepreneurs to present their startup ideas to a diverse audience of mentors and advisors. In addition, the chamber sponsors events like The Goodpitch Competition and the McAllen Innovation Grant Awards, and the organization backs incubator spaces like IdeaPlace, TechPlace and VirtualPlace.
“We also feature a program called Crowdfunding Catapult that helps innovators develop their crowdfunding campaign, which is asking a crowd of people to donate an amount of money for a specific cause or project in exchange for various rewards,â€ Ahlenius says. “The Chamber stays committed to developing innovation and helping startups in McAllen, and we have an 11-year track record of success.