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Chamber of Commerce: President leaves to join start-up venture

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

After seven years as Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce president, Annette Medlin is leaving to take on a new challenge.

Medlin is a partner in a national membership development company, Membership180, that launched last month. She is leaving the Chamber to devote her full attention to the endeavor, but will remain long enough for the board to find a replacement and to ensure that person has everything in hand.

“I’ve worked too hard for this Chamber to watch it flail,” Medlin said.

An advertisement for the position went up online last week and will run through May 23.

“The board set some pretty specific criteria,” Medlin said. “The Chamber I inherited was nowhere near what it is now. For the next stage, it needs someone with a specific Chamber background and training.”

Résumés have come in from as far as Arizona and, between the county’s location and the quality of life, a huge response is expected.

Under Medlin’s leadership, the Chamber has grown to around 800 members and wants to continue that trend, said Will Howard, who chairs the Chamber board. The Chamber also moved into a better space since Medlin took over, is more fiscally responsible and started reaching out to other organizations with similar objectives.

“That’s something I’ve been really proud to see happen,” said Howard, who moved to the county halfway through Medlin’s tenure. “From my conversations with people who have been affiliated with the Chamber in the past, it’s a much better Chamber than it used to be and I think that comes from Annette pouring a lot of time and energy into the Chamber. I’m extremely grateful for what she has done.”

Before the Chamber, Medlin spent four years as vice president for public operations at Brookgreen Gardens and was a professional singer and vocal coach for 18 years before that.

She has been looking for “the next challenge” for a couple of years, she said.

“In my industry, it’s either another Chamber or a move into being more of a consulting business vendor for the industry,” she explained.

She opted to go the consulting route. “It’s the same language, but you’re using it in a different way,” she said.

Membership180 helps membership organizations recruit new members and keep existing members engaged.

Her partner is Jay Handler, a speaker on sales, marketing and social media, who has worked with clients such as Comcast Business Class, the National Kitchen and Bath Association, and Chambers of Commerce across the country. He is owner and creator of The Marketing Department and Biz180 Conferences, and is host and creator of Open for Business, a radio talk show.

“Retention for any member organization the last couple of years during the recession has been very difficult,” Medlin said. “Another big problem is the increasing number of baby boomers leaving the workforce. For many months, there has been a big emphasis on ‘this is not your father’s chamber,’ or business association or whatever it is, because the newer generations don’t just join because that’s what you’re supposed to do. They’ve got to know there’s a reason for them to be there.”

Those are the kinds of difficulties Membership180 helps groups overcome, Medlin said.

Handler initiated plans for starting the business in January, with Medlin not taking an active role until last month when she informed the Chamber board of her plans. She never expected her departure from the Chamber would come so quickly.

“I originally thought it would take me until the end of the year to get enough momentum built up that I could feel comfortable moving on,” she said. “But once my friends and colleagues in the industry found out about it, it started spreading like wildfire.”

One of the good things about going into business for herself, is that she won’t have to move. She’ll run the business from her home, she said. And a developing business will keep her busy during her daughter’s first year away from home. Her daughter, Rachel Medlin Evans, has been accepted into the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities for her last two years of high school.

“That helps in my transition on the personal front to know she’s taken care of,” Medlin said.

More business: From kitchen to store shelves – OMG!

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