Executive Decision

ACCGS’s Boronski Earns Rare Chamber Designation
Deb Boronski

Deb Boronski, CCE, says chambers of commerce are now about much more than maps, and must provide large doses of value to their members.

Deb Boronski says it gets in your blood.

She was referring to the work undertaken by chamber of commerce administrators — duties that range from making coffee for a quick breakfast meeting to lobbying legislative leaders on minimum wage proposals and other matters that impact members and their bottom lines.

“The work is different every day,” Boronski, senior vice president for the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, told BusinessWest. “You never know what business person will call you with what problem. It’s fun work and it’s challenging, and that’s why once it’s in your blood it doesn’t go away.” This explains why many chamber leaders stay in the profession, or sometimes one specific job, for many years, she said. “You become part of the community.”

Boronski speaks from experience; she’s been involved with chambers for more than two decades and has held leadership posts for the past 17 years, including a stint as president of the Chicopee Chamber and the past nine years in her post with the ACCGS. She wants to continue in this profession and build upon the skill set she has acquired, and for those reasons and others she sought and attained designation as a certified chamber executive.

Thus, she is now Debra A. Boronski, CCE.

Few of the officials working for the 4,500 or so chambers in the U.S. that have paid staff (perhaps 10%) achieve such status, she said, adding that doing so should help her advance her career in chamber work. But the designation also sends a message to the 1,500-odd ACCGS members that its leadership is serious about effectively serving its members and providing value for their investment in the chamber.

This is important, she said, because chamber members and would-be members are becoming ever-more-discerning customers, and ongoing education, including CCE designation, is necessary to effectively serve them.

BusinessWest talked with Boronski recently about that challenge, and also about a profession that few people really understand — or would even consider a profession.

Initial Reaction

That what local chambers of commerce were perhaps most noted for years ago, said Boronski, adding that their lobbies were, and to some extent still are, dominated by maps of the community in question and brochures for area events, organizations, and hotels.

But the roadmaps that chambers are most concerned with now are more figurative in nature, she explained, adding that they detail how business owners and managers can run their ventures more effectively and more profitably.

This is part of an ongoing nationwide trend that sees chambers providing increasing value to their members, she said, adding that value is both needed and demanded.

“Businesses no longer join out of loyalty or feel-good reasons,” she explained. “Now, it’s all about WIFM — ‘what’s in it for me?’”

The need to effectively and continuously answer that question is one of many changes Boronski has witnessed during a long span of chamber involvement that began when she was the director of marketing and development for a Chicopee-based nonprofit organization known then as FOR Inc. and now as Sunshine Village, a group that provides employment opportunities for developmentally disabled individuals.

She became involved with the chamber’s women’s volunteer division known as the Super Cs. “The men had their own division called the Fireballs,” she said, rolling her eyes slightly. “That’s how long ago that was.”

Boronski became increasingly involved with the Chicopee chamber, and when its then-director, John Frickenberg, left his post and the profession, she applied for the job.

“I liked working for the business community,” she said of her decision to change careers, “and I felt like a natural in committee meetings and facilitating things; I really liked the work.”

It was the variety of that work and involvement in the community that most appealed to her, and these ingredients took on exponentially greater meaning when she became senior vice president of the ACCGS in 1997. That group, which has grown substantially over the past decade, now includes seven chambers — Springfield, Westfield, West Springfield, East Longmeadow/Longmeadow, Agawam, Ludlow, and Hampden/Wilbraham, and Boronski is very involved with each one.

“And that’s what makes each day different,” she explained. “One day you’re at a meeting on East Street Corridor work in Ludlow, the next it might be the Lowe’s project in East Longmeadow, or working with the redevelopment authority in West Springfield on the Merrick section initiative, or talking about Bowles Road in Agawam.”

Much of the work with and for those chambers would never be described as glamorous, she said, noting that there are countless breakfasts, golf tournaments, and after-hours gatherings for which her presence is required. But planning such events, and then being at them, networking with members, and listening to their concerns is part of the process of providing value to that membership.

Elaborating, she said that, while the chamber still provides maps and stages fundraising events like Chicopee’s famed Kielbasa Festival, which she orchestrated for many years, its primary function is economic development. “We’re here to help make businesses more profitable and to bring more businesses to cities and towns.”

This is achieved, she said, through a variety of chamber-led cost-cutting initiatives involving everything from health insurance to credit card transactions to a recently announced collaboration with W.B. Mason that will save members money on office supplies. Meanwhile, advocacy is another important element, she continued, adding that it is part of any chamber’s responsibility to see that the voice of the business community is heard.

Still another part of that equation is ongoing education, or “staying sharp,” as she called it.

“That’s how you effectively serve your members,” she said, “through education and learning from other chambers about what has worked in their communities and what could work in yours. We’re all happy to share ideas.”

As part of that ongoing education and process of getting better at what she does, Boronski first graduated from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organizational Management — a recognized standard for professional development and fundamental training in the chamber industry — and then sought CCE designation, which isn’t easy to earn.

“It’s quite a process,” she said, noting that first, applicants must qualify for the honor through several years of work in the industry, a demonstrably active role in the community, and service to the Association of Chambers of Commerce. Actual CCE designation is awarded through the accumulation of points — earned in several ways, including graduation from the institute, serving on and presiding over chamber association committees, and getting work published — and then several other steps designed to prove worthiness.

These include writing an essay on some aspect of one’s work — Boronski chose her involvement with the creation of the chamber’s new Division of Business Excellence — and also a lengthy interview with five CCEs, who grill applicants on subjects ranging from economic development to management style and grade their responses, and then a four-hour exam featuring essay and multiple-choice questions.

When the process is over, CCE designees are tired, but proud, said Boronski, noting that this is the only national certification for chamber professionals, and only a few people in the Commonwealth have such a plaque on their wall.

Chamber Music

Boronski told BusinessWest that while most people in the local business community understand and respect what she does, some confusion and/or ignorance remains.

“Some people will ask, ‘what’s your real job?’” she explained, “or they think I work in city hall.”

Having a few initials after her name is not likely to change that scenario any time soon, but it will give her a greater sense of pride and accomplishment that goes with venturing where few in her profession dare to tread.

And it will help her stay sharp.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]