OVERVIEW: Incorporated in 1995, the Northern Ohio Area Chambers of Commerce (NOACC) was established to provide tangible benefits of chamber membership to local businesses. NOACC has now grown to over 120 chambers of commerce–some volunteer managed, some county-wide in scope–and some of the NOACC chambers have grown ten-fold with the adoption of these benefits.
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Cindy Holzheimer, Executive Director of NOACC
INCEPTION: The genesis of NOACC started with a group of chamber executive directors gathering on a regular basis in the late eighties. Chambers from eastern Cuyahoga County, Lake County, Hudson and Parma were represented. The directors met about every six weeks to discuss matters of common interest, such as membership, programming, newsletter, and sources of revenue. These meetings resulted in the Lake County Chambers forming a common association in 1991, and other chambers partnering on revenue projects.Early in 1992, Nancy Foreman (Euclid Chamber), Ron White (Beachwood Chamber) and Mae Cisar (Solon Chamber) joint ventured to produce a series of satellite seminars. Beachwood handled the facility, Solon handled the printing, and Euclid handled the registration. The work was shared, the risk was shared, and the profits were shared. In November of 1992, Ron White of Beachwood asked Bill Ryan of Master Benefits to participate in the development of tangible benefits of membership for the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce. In April of 1993, Ryan presented the answer to the Board: a Community Mutual Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance product that offered chamber members deep discounts off standard street rates and standard commissions to agents. All licensed agents were eligible to represent the product, hence attracting the immediate interest of dozens of local agents.
Within weeks the word had spread to other local chambers. They saw the potential to compete for local members with real tangible benefits. They saw the capability of growing their chambers through the health insurance agent sales force. The Beachwood Chamber demonstrated no provincialism in electing to share the product. Community Mutual agreed to extend the offering to other local chambers.
In rapid succession Euclid, Solon, Mayfield Area, Heights Regional, Westlake/Bay Village (West Shore), Chesterland and Warrensville/North Randall/Highland Hills adopted the Community Mutual health insurance plan. Other chambers, including Burton, Munroe, Stow, Tallmadge, Hudson, Nordonia Hills, Cuyahoga Falls, Middlefield, Chardon Area, and Kent had also indicated interest in the plan, but Community Mutual declared an underwriting moratorium on the Beachwood plan. Some of the chambers were able to adopt lesser versions of the original Beachwood plan.
NOACC was incorporated in November 1995 by the three founding chambers: Beachwood, Euclid and Solon, with Ken Kleinman of Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz serving as legal counsel.
In December of 1993 several chambers were invited to Beachwood to discuss the feasibility of implementing a common workers’ compensation group pool plan. Euclid, Solon, and Parma had previously tried to implement such a plan for their respective members, but had failed, due to a lack of critical mass. Now, with eight chambers committed to the project and others vitally interested, there was a new sense of enthusiasm.
The joint task force reviewed proposals from Compensation Consultants, NFIB, Sheakley, PRM, and others, before settling on the law firm of Ross, Brittain & Schonberg and their workers’ compensation service arm, Comprehensive Risk Management (CRM.) In September 1995, Alan Ross was given formal approval for the workers’ compensation plan offered by the Northern Ohio Area Chambers of Commerce (NOACC).
Word of the workers’ compensation plan, the health insurance plan and the cooperative environment spread throughout Northern Ohio.
LEADERSHIP: Ron White (Beachwood), NOACC’s first chairperson, passed the gavel to Nancy Foreman (Euclid). Nancy passed it to M.J. Neel (Lakewood and then Hudson). M.J.’s successor was a Solon Chamber Board Member, William (Bill) Russo, who served for two years. When Bill accepted Solon’s nomination for him to serve as their President, his successor serving as the 2001 NOACC Chairperson was Vicky Hawke (Parma Area.) Vicky served as the NOACC Treasurer for the first three years, then the Vice Chairperson for one year prior to becoming Chairperson. When Vicky was offered and accepted the position of Executive Director of NOACC in March 2002 the Vice Chairperson, William (Bill) Ryan accepted the Chairmanship for the balance of the 2002 Calendar year. Vicky served as the Executive Director of NOACC until September 2018. Tom Sudow, Executive Director for the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce was elected to serve as the Chairperson for 2003, 2004 and 2005. Mary Stamler, the Executive Director of the Garfield Hts Chamber of Commerce was elected to serve as the Chairperson in 2006 and 2007. Kathy Berkshire had served as the Vice President and was the CEO and President of the Lakewood Chamber when she became the Chairman in 2008. She served as Chairman in 2009 also and was succeeded by Wayne Lawrence, the Executive Director of the Beachwood Chamber in 2010 who served through 2011, and had previously served as Vice Chairman. Anthony (Tony) Gallo, President of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce served as Vice President and succeeded Wayne to become and stay the Chairman from 2012 through 2015. Cindy Caldwell (nka Holzheimer), the Executive Director of the Beachwood Chamber and served until 2018. Cindy now serves as the NOACC Executive Director. Veri Vespoli, Board Member with the North Canton Chamber of Commerce, was elected Chair in 2018.
BENEFITS: Community Mutual has now become Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the only Blue Cross and Blue Shield domiciled in Ohio. Anthem Life has offered additional discounts on group life and disability products. Even though the discount has stabilized for group associations across the state of Ohio, it is now applied to all the available Anthem insurance plans from the traditional to HSA’s and the Consumer Driven Health Plans. The Anthem program has been responsible for much of the growth and success of the NOACC Chamber partnership, as chambers across the state have sought membership to be able to offer the high quality Anthem plans exclusively to their members. Even with the changes brought with the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 and implemented in January 2014, the ChamberSaver program has grown. With the addition of the SOCA Benefit Plan in May 2016, this Multiple Employer Welfare Association (MEWA) has offered new savings to businesses through their chamber membership and growth for NOACC Chambers.
The original workers’ comp group rating program established with Comprehensive Risk Management (CRM) was disbanded in 2008. A review of workers’ compensation third party administrators (TPAs) in 2008 resulted in the selection of Benefits 1 Group (B1G) as the new TPA for NOACC’s Workers’ Compensation Group Rating Program. B1G brings a wide variety of services to businesses with workers’ comp issues, i.e. penalty rated, etc. Change in ownership desolved B1G, which has become part of the larger TPA of Paramount Preferred Solution located in northwest Ohio.
The Wellness Council of Northeast Ohio was a natural evolvement for NOACC due to Anthem’s sponsorship and focus on wellness. The council was adopted in 2000 with a weight management program that now has expanded its offerings to a walking program and a smoking cessation program recently.
The services of a website designer to create an Internet vehicle for NOACC led to the acceptance of Evergreen Communications to provide website design and emarketing assistance early in NOACC’s development. Their name change to GHI Internet Services in 2003 more accurately describes their enhanced capabilities.
The need to offer Managed Care services due to workers’ compensation legislation passed in the 1990’s brought the selection of University CompCare (UCC) as NOACC’s Managed Care Organization. Ownership by the University Hospital Health System has assured employers the highest standards of return to work care for their employees through UCC’s services. University CompCare changed its name to University Hospitals CompCare in 2008.
The Board adopted a retirement administration plan in the late 1990’s, offered by Certified Pension Services and funded by licensed investments specialists throughout Northern Ohio. This benefit was suspended in 2005.
An association plan for overnight delivery from Airborne Express was put into place in 2001 and has since changed to the global operation known as DHL Express. With the removal of DHL Express from the local market, the NOACC program was removed in December 2008. This program was successfully replaced iwith the efforts of PartnerShip working with FedEx to bring savings from small packages-ground and air delivery to truckload savings. This has provided a revenue program for the participating chambers.
Employee Assessment Testing services through RKS & Associates (name was changed to Impromax) inwas added to the growing list of NOACC Enhancement Benefits in early 2000’s but has since been suspended.
In January of 2001 the Board adopted a discounted rate plan and the services of a top ranked credit card processing company, Heartland Payment Systems, providing an opportunity for even the smallest business to offer an additional payment option. When a Payroll Processing benefit was researched in 2003, after studying multi proposals, Heartland Payment Systems was chosen again as the best option for both chambers and their members.
By mid 2001 the lengthy discussions over accepting a long-term care insurance program were finalized with the Board acceptance of CNA Life to provide an outstanding program to all NOACC members, their families and employees. The program was improved again when the NOACC Board adopted an arrangement with Ohio Long Term Care Brokers (OLTCB) in February 2003. OLTCB allowed access to various group discounts offered by the top carriers in long term care insurance. And again, local agents and brokers partnered with a NOACC provider to offer savings to local chamber members and their families. The Long Term Care Insurance benefit was suspended in October 2006 for reevaluation.
A small freight provider, Jarrett Logistics was selected early for NOACC’s growing list of benefits, but when the NOACC membership grew across the state of Ohio, the need to have a different arrangement led to the selection of CT Logistics in 2004 offering an online freight brokerage service through a discounted co-op program. This program ultimately ended.
With the growing popularity of HSA’s (Health Savings Accounts) the HSA Easy-Pak Tool Kit was adopted in 2006 to provide administrative assistance to HSA managers to start the 2007 year. A product that is unique to the market and competitively priced to facilitate client proposals by agents. This benefit was suspended in late 2009.
After years of discussion and various opportunities reviewed, an office supply program was launched with Independence Business Supply, an Ohio based company to offer aggressive pricing to chamber members with an additional revenue opportunity to participating chambers in October 2008. IBS is well known in their industry for offering competitive pricing and overnight free delivery without requiring contracts or long term arrangements. They provide easy ordering by phone, fax, email or online with aceess to an online history for convenient reordering.
In 2009 a chamber member discounted program with AmerAssist AR Solutions, an accounts payable and debt collection program, was offered as the newest benefit. This program was ultimately ended.
Since 1995, several benefits, besides the ones mentioned above, have been added and removed, i.e., business plan development, compliance posters, D & O Insurance, natural gas, telecommunications, etc., at the recommendation of the Benefits Task Force (BTF.) The BTF works diligently to research and negotiate the best terms and offers that can be made available regionally to the growing NOACC membership. Potential benefits are constantly being studied.
The Extra Value Vendor Program was created to offer wider opportunities to vendors in a regional area to participate in a “pay to play” model. Upon acceptance of an application fee and annual dues paid, the benefit provider(vendor) could access the NOACC Chambers to provide services and rate savings. Many participants have approached NOACC to join this program, but the main requirement of at least one year’s prior chamber membership has kept the program from growing too quickly. The Community Energy Advisors (CEA) joined with the success of their program evident in the Greater Medina Chamber, and has now become a viable energy savings and education program for all the chambers, and a significant revenue generator for many.
COMMITTEES: Besides the Benefits Task Force, chaired since it’s inception by William (Bill) Ryan as NOACC’s most diligent volunteer, NOACC has had several committees that fluctuate in status and leadership. An Educational Programming Committee, organizes seminars, speakers and showcases for members. The Technology Committee oversees the website, video and tech training, research, etc. The Safety Committee covers the requirements critical to the viability and performance of the workers’ compensation plan. The Marketing Committee works with NOACC’s vendors and the member chambers to coordinate and deliver the chamber/NOACC message. Several Task Forces have handled projects like annual meetings and events, appreciation activities, branding initiatives and others. The launch of the Chamber Bright Star program in 2008 brought the chambers together to celebrate the efforts of their volunteers in their mutual success. Each year since 40-50 Bright Stars have been recognized locally and regionally with a gala event held in various locations in north east Ohio. Venues have included the Pickwick & Follies, Cadillac Ranch, Cleveland Metropolitan Zoo, Cleveland Arcade, Cleveland Browns Stadium, Greater Cleveland Science Museum, Hard Rock Rocksino, Windows on the River, Canton Pro-Football Hall of Fame and Thistledown’s Jack Racino.
GROWTH: With the addition of the seven Lake County Chambers and then the 31 chambers located in the Northwest Region of Ohio in 2000, NOACC’s service area expanded regionally across the state of Ohio. Small and large chambers of commerce look to NOACC to provide benefits and opportunities that make their chambers more valuable to their respective members. In March 2003, NOACC celebrated the 100th chamber joining its pool of members. In October of 2006 NOACC Celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary with Governor Bob Taft visiting to award membership plaques to 40 chambers in attendance. NOACC’s Criteria for Membership requires an organization to be an IRS 501c6 Trade Association, and function like a not-for profit chamber of commerce. This has eliminated the competitive issue of local Community Development Organizations (CDCs who are IRS 501c3) or similar religious, charitable, housing, fraternal or benevolent groups accessing NOACC benefits for their members. Although these groups, as well as home-based businesses are encouraged to join their local Chamber of Commerce to utilize these benefits for their employees and families.
NOACC currently offers benefits to almost 30,000 employer groups through the membership of over 120 Chambers of Commerce in Northern Ohio. It is now the largest independent chamber association in the United States and is prepared to meet the current and future needs of this expanded service area and membership. The NOACC events and meetings offer chamber leadership–both staff and volunteer–many networking and sharing opportunities. And the main purpose of NOACC’s creation, to attract and keep members in the local chambers of commerce by offering significant discounts and rates on benefits and businesses want and to seek opportunities for non-dues revenue generation for chambers–has been successful. Thanks to all NOACC Volunteers and Vendors–past, current and future.