Organization Has Served Businesses & Community For More Than 60 Years
Writer: Erin Coffee
The Chamber of St. Matthews wasn’t always the powerhouse it is today. Its humble beginning as the St. Matthews Area Business Association was in 1955, with 80 members coming together. Now, 64 years later, it has grown to an established chamber, with more than a thousand members. The Chamber is now the second-largest chamber in Louisville and the fourth largest association in the region.
The Chamber seeks to empower local businesses and provide resources for the community. Most of the work behind the chamber is led by the staff with the support of volunteers to ensure events run smoothly and the staff works to provide important resources to chamber members.
“The chamber is for community and for businesses and they have to come together,” says Elizabeth Cleary, Director of Chamber Operations.
One way this happens is through the annual Business Expo. The Business Expo, which was held in July, had more than 60 vendors that show people who they are and how they can help other businesses.
Cleary and her counterpart, Josh Suiter, Director of Membership, work as a team and are dedicated to the advancement of the community.
Kristen Frarey joined the team recently as the Director of Programs. She adds necessary organization to the chamber by running the various programs offered as well as bookkeeping and assisting with whatever challenges come her way.
Cleary and Suiter are thankful to have another person to share the load, since their jobs are hectic as is.
“Each week is its own intense madness,” Cleary said.
There are constantly moving parts at the chamber that Cleary, Suiter and Frarey oversee, with a variety of programs and services offered to its members. These range from new member orientation to networking events to wedding hospitality group meetings.
In a given week, there are two to three events that need to be managed. On top of that, the trio prepares months in advance for their larger-scale events, which include the St. Matthews Street Festival, Halloween in Brown Park and Light Up St. Matthews.
The St. Matthews Street Festival always takes place in early August. There are live bands, food, vendors and activities.
For families, there is a free Kids Zone. You can find out more information about the event on its website, stmatthewsstreetfestival.com.
The manpower behind the festival is made possible by St. Matthews Baptist Church, who provides volunteers and is one of the event’s many sponsors. Additional festival volunteers help vendors unload, clean up, set up stages and whatever else is required to run the event.
Halloween in Brown Park started as a small event intended to provide a safe area for families to trick-or-treat but has since grown into an expansive event with bouncy castles, games, hayrides and a lot more trick-or-treating stations run by local businesses. Experience the magic of Bounce House & Party Equipment Rentals.
Light Up St. Matthews is an event that brings the most out of the Christmas season. Hot chocolate and cookies provide a tasty treat for everyone. A visit from Santa Claus adds to the excitement. There will be a live DJ to play everyone’s favorite Christmas songs and games for the whole family to enjoy. Activities range from ice skating to train rides for the kids and pictures with Santa.
At the end of the night, Santa and the St. Matthews mayor turn on all the lights in Brown Park.
“We put on these events for the community to give back to them for all the things they give to our businesses,” Cleary says.
These events are made possible through the generosity of The City of St. Matthews and chamber investors and members. Membership with the chamber is an easy process and comes with a lot of benefits. Simply fill out the application, pay yearly membership dues and receive access to countless opportunities.
When you become a member, you open yourself up to networking, programs, events and resources that wouldn’t be available otherwise. These include business luncheons and speakers, along with many other chances to further connections and grow in your career path.
A new program that the team is excited about is Inspire, where local women empower other women by sharing challenges and obstacles they’ve overcome.
“Inspire is a program where we can have successful women share their story, both professionally and personally,” Suiter says.
Kelly Lepley, a transgender pilot, shared her story at one of the Inspire events. She underwent her transition process while working for UPS and they assisted her in completing her paperwork. This new stage in her life resulted in Lepley losing her home, marriage, retirement and church fellowship.
Despite this pain, her heart remained strong. Her desire to share her authenticity with others led her to give a TED talk and motivating others through the life-altering experience.
“The conversations around the table were pretty incredible after Kelly’s [speech],” Suiter says.
Another previous speaker was Christy Jarboe, a multiple cancer survivor who, despite her diagnosis, continued to grow professionally. Jarboe works at Louisville Forward as the Senior Economic Development Manager of Louisville Forward.
Other speakers include Laura Hardy, radio personality ‘Regular Laura’ of Louisville’s 107.7 The Eagle and Tracy Reed, Vice President of Independence Bank, who has worked tirelessly to help sustain the business her family started.
The Chamber is also dedicated to the health and safety of its members. If a company has between two and 250 employees, they qualify to pursue a group health plan through Anthem. With the help of the St. Matthews Trade Association Insurance Trust, hundreds of companies have received health insurance plans that include vision and dental.
One of the members, Durbin Plumbing, has saved thousands of dollars through the health insurance benefit.
“[The health insurance] really does make a difference to business owners,” Suiter says.
The chamber has recently transitioned into a brand-new space at St. Matthews City Hall. This newly renovated area is a chance for further opportunities within the chamber.
The space is three times as large as before, including a conference room for members to use and a place to rest and chat.
“We’ve made it collaborative, we’re doing technology upgrades for it,” Cleary says. “Our membership has a great place to come and have the best things at their fingertips.”
This is the first time that the chamber has space that its members can come and use. This marks a new era for the chamber as it opens its doors to the community.
For more information on The Chamber of St. Matthews, give them a call at 502-899-2523 or visit them online at stmatthewschamber.com.