By EMILY RAMSEY
BUSINESS PROMOTION: Tony Heaberlin, left, 2016 chairman of the Owasso Chamber of Commerce and Tulsa Tech chief communications officer, stands with Chamber President Gary Akin. Heaberlin plans to spend his year as chairman focused on increasing the chamber’s membership numbers and program offerings, facility improvements, and reinstitution of its annual resource campaign.
Courtesy Owasso Chamber of Commerce
As the 2016 Chairman of the Owasso Chamber of Commerce, Tony Heaberlin recognizes the chamber’s need to continue to grow as the city’s business community expands.
Heaberlin lives just outside of Owasso in Sperry. One of his children attends Rejoice Christian Schools, and, as Tulsa Tech’s chief communications officer, Heaberlin remains active in both the Owasso community and the region.
“Owasso is a great community to live in,” he says.
Heaberlin sees how the Owasso Chamber aids in the growth of local businesses, with those businesses, in turn, providing employment opportunities to Tulsa Tech’s many graduates, including those from its Owasso campus, which opened in 2013.
Heaberlin has worked for Tulsa Tech for almost 30 years and has witnessed firsthand the school’s growth, as well as the increase in student interest.
“What’s most exciting for me is the (student) success stories, how the school accelerates their independence and paves the path to their careers,” he says.
The positive outcomes that the school brings about hits especially close to home for Heaberlin. One of his sons graduated from Tulsa Tech’s automotive service program.
“Currently, he is an auto service technician at Jim Norton Chevrolet in Broken Arrow at 25 years old,” he says.
“This is a kid who ended up in alternative school at Union High School because things weren’t taught the way that he needed them to be.”
After completing the automotive program, his son went on to work for various car dealerships and built a four-bedroom home in Broken Arrow in his early 20’s.
“That wasn’t something that I would have been able to do in my 20’s, even with a college degree,” Heaberlin says.
“There’s a lot of need in the workforce for technical degrees right now.”
A few months ago, as Heaberlin prepared for his new responsibility as chamber chair, he first determined what exactly that means: “The chairman sets the vision for that year and is the biggest cheerleader to motivate,” he says.
Next, Heaberlin decided on his areas of focus for his year as chairman, one of those areas revolving around membership.
While the Owasso Chamber does an above-average job of retaining its members, with an attrition rate of eight percent compared to the national average attrition rate of 18 percent, “considering Owasso’s business growth, which has been tremendous, the chamber has not kept pace,” he says.
That local business growth includes the recent addition of Sam’s, Academy Sports and Outdoors, and the Macy’s Fulfillment Center.
Two more of his priorities include improving both the chamber’s program offerings and its facilities.
“Aesthetics are important,” he continues. “The building that the chamber operates in is 50 years old and is the former Tulsa City/County Health Department building. It no longer provides the functional space needed to meet the needs of membership and staff, and it does not project the professional image equal to the professional services that we provide.”
Therefore, in the coming months, the chamber’s board of directors will be working with city officials, designers and construction experts to determine available options to modernize the chamber’s facilities.
However, to bring about building upgrades, the chamber needs to see increased revenue; one-third of the chamber’s revenue comes from membership dues with two-thirds coming from non-dues activities such as sponsorships of chamber events and advertising revenue from Lifestyle Owasso Magazine.
As another way to increase the chamber’s revenue, Heaberlin has recommended the reestablishment of its annual resource campaign. This would involve developing a comprehensive program to engage member volunteers in a campaign to sell sponsorships to programs and to increase memberships.
“There’s an excitement surrounding downtown Owasso and Owasso in general,” says Heaberlin.
Owasso residents recently voted to name downtown Owasso the “Redbud District,” and upcoming building projects are in the works.
Now is the time for the Owasso Chamber of Commerce to match the city’s growth.