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Columbia Inspired

Business in the New Normal

Jun 14, 2021 03:49PM ● By Gabrielle Lewis

Now more than ever, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce is alight with activity. The focus on developing the people, property, and prosperity for local businesses has been the mission of the Chamber since its inception, and the unexpected events over the course of the last year prompted economic and community innovation. The Chamber offers a wide range of resources for local business owners including networking events, professional development, and having direct access to communication with elected officials. As a major tool in the development of Howard County, the Chamber is dedicated to bringing the community to new heights of economic urban growth.

President and CEO Leonardo McClarty has always been interested in urban development. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, McClarty spent his childhood watching the increasing progression of the city, becoming fascinated with the process of urban expansion. McClarty served as President of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce for nearly a decade, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to transfer his skills to Howard County. He has served faithfully in the position for seven years, and has been honored to directly contribute to the growth of the city he loves.

McClarty shares that one of the most fulfilling aspects of his position is the innovation that comes with development. “Every day, I meet new people, learn about new businesses, and hear new ideas on a daily basis,” says McClarty. The Chamber serves not only as a fountain of knowledge for local business owners, but also an advocate for the needs of businesses. The Chamber has the opportunity to directly speak with elected officials, working to ensure that businesses receive policy and legislative updates as quickly as possible, as well as sharing challenges to address the business experience in Howard County. The Chamber’s legislative agenda includes input from members of the organization, making sure to have local business’ interests in mind when creating a new policy that impacts the economic growth of the community. 

McClarty shares that the Chamber’s flexibility is a major source of strength throughout the pandemic. Members had to adjust to having meetings in digital format, as well as acknowledge and attempt to mitigate the initial toll on local businesses. Despite the rocky beginning, as restrictions are gradually lifting the Chamber is excited to have various upcoming events, both in person and online. The hybrid approach to upcoming events has been a welcome reintroduction to community gatherings.

On June 9th, the Howard County Chamber hosted a Multicultural Mixer and Diversity Forum. The event was a hybrid, with an in-person networking event located at the Historic Oakland Manor, as well as a virtual forum. This event discussed the interconnected challenges of combating discrimination and celebrating diversity, as well as honoring the residents of Howard County from all over the world, who add richness and depth to the community. Another upcoming event is the virtual Women’s Leadership Conference hosted in July. The event initially was created by the Chamber to recognize women in government contracting. It has now expanded to support women in all industries at every stage of their career. The virtual event will include networking and feature speakers from across the Mid-Atlantic and DMV. 

Not to be focused solely on wily business veterans, the Chamber also has programs for those young in their careers. The Young Professionals Network or YPN as it is affectionately called offers programming that focuses on management skill development, organizational skills, and navigating professional development early in one’s career. Members of YPN are able to influence policy at local and state levels, be recognized for entrepreneurial and leadership talents, and become a voice in the community. 

Since 1969, the organization has served the community and works to continue its excellence long into the future. Thanks to the efforts of community members banding together to support each other after an unprecedented time, the push for creativity and growth has made Howard County’s continued development a sight to behold. For those who are itching to travel again, the Chamber also has an expansive travel program, where members of the organization can travel together around the globe. This year’s trip is to Greece, where members are able to take a ten day tour of the beautiful country. The itinerary of the trip includes a cruise of the Greek Isle, a tour of the Parthenon and Acropolis, as well as the unique opportunity to meet with business leaders in Greece. The Chamber departs in October, and members are already able to book their spot and engage with this life changing experience. 

Photography Credit: Pam Long Photography
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