- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

The American "chamber of commerce" has a history going back to the Revolutionary War when the first office was opened in Charlotte, S.C., in 1773.
Today, the official, D.C,-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce (www.uschamber.org) represents nearly 3 million companies, 3,000 state and local chambers, 850 business associations and 87 chambers abroad.
In order to protect their mission "to be the outstanding advocate of business in Washington D.C. and around the world," the Chamber realized it needed to protect its name on the World Wide Web.
While exploring on line, the Chamber found a number of Web sites from on-line brokerage houses to cyber-banks that offered a variety of tools and resources for businesses such as mortgage, loan calculators and articles.
The Chamber took this as a wake-up call and developed a new, dynamic Web site ChamberBiz.com (www.chamberbiz.com) which debuted in March and incorporates many of these resources.
"When Tom Donohue became chief executive officer for the Chamber, he knew that we needed a beachhead in cyberspace," said Evan McDonnell, vice president and acting chief operating officer of ChamberBiz.com.
"He knew that if we did not define our brand in cyberspace, someone else would rush to package and offer this information," Mr. McDonnell added.
To build the site, the Chamber sought input from members.
"Chambers are in business to help their members be successful, so we listened to the individual chambers on a state and local level as to what they wanted," said Robert "Bob" Perkins, senior vice president for the Chamber and developer of ChamberBiz.com.
"The result was a 'bricks and clicks' solution a Web site that would have all the elements of the brick and mortar chambers across the country available through Web site clicks," Mr. Perkins said.
The nonprofit Chamber partnered with majority investor Telcom Ventures of Alexandria, a venture capital company specializing in information and communications, to create and fund the for-profit Web site.
So far, 170 state and local chambers have registered as partners of the site. They are listed by name, state, zip or area code. Links to member Web sites also are listed.
While access to ChamberBiz.com is free to registered users and Chamber members, the site offers products and services for sale.
Users get custom news feeds, an e-mail account and expert advice for business owners and managers. They also receive the "Donohue Letter," a weekly electronic newsletter offering advice and updates on federal legislation.
"We jumped in right away and did some primary research as to what small businesses needed and learned that some primary needs included help growing their business, hiring employees and keeping up with technology," Mr. McDonnell said.
Users who click into the BizCenter will find a number of helpful tools. The HR (Human Resources) Manager, powered by AtYourBusiness.com, allows companies to manage payroll, workmen's compensation, background checks and benefits.
The HR Manager also offers sample interview questions, performance appraisal forms and information on creating a company handbook on line.
One feature under development will allow users to compare prices for products and services by requesting quotes from vendors.
"We think by pulling out everything we have here we are giving small businesses an 'unfair' advantage by helping those small business to adapt and change to electronic commerce," Mr. McDonnell said.
"It is such a huge force and groundswell, and as I look over the landscape, people can either surf the wave or be crushed by it," he added.
Have an interesting site? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Business Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

Site of the Week: Chamberbiz.com[p]

Site address: www.chamberbiz.com
Recommended user group: Business owners, managers, entrepreneurs and chambers of commerce.
What's to like? Particularly for the self-employed and small business owner, one of the World Wide Web's earliest benefits was the ability to find information on all aspects of running their enterprises. It provided the feeling that they "were not alone" on their journey toward success.
ChamberBiz.com creates a one-stop site that is well designed, trustworthy and easy to navigate. The site offers great articles on legal, business and employment matters along with sound advice on how to manage and grow a business.
What's not to like? Within the HR Manager section, it was very difficult to determine what was a free, and what was a fee service without going in several pages deep. I would have liked to see more information up front on specific services and fee structures.
Plenty of links to go around: ChamberBiz.com offers information on other companies, resources and product or service providers. Once one searches for a company, they can find companies listed by name, address and telephone number. It also offers directions, a map and background checks (for a fee). But it does not provide a link to that company's Web site.

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