People You Should Know: Tony Howard

By November 2, 2012November 4th, 2016Blog, Small Biz

By: Susan VanEpps

This month we interviewed Tony Howard, the president and CEO of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce since 2006.  During his tenure, the chamber has grown to more than 1,200 member businesses and community leaders, making it the largest chamber in Northern Virginia. Member activities are extensive, addressing business issues critical to entrepreneurs.

Focus areas for the chamber’s councils, committees and special events include business-to-business networking, public policy, commercial real estate, business and community service recognition, sustainability, technology, women in business and the needs of growing small businesses and nonprofits. Read more about how the Loudoun Chamber assists entrepreneurs, and why Tony wants to meet you.

Tony, what factors make membership in the Loudoun Chamber so attractive?

In many ways, the Loudoun County Chamber’s success has been earned the same way that all of our member businesses succeed:  we listen to our members to understand how we can help them grow their business and achieve their personal and professional goals.  Then we work with our members to create programs and services that provide significant value for our member businesses, nonprofits and community leaders.

In today’s economic environment, business owners and executives are demanding that their investments into our chamber deliver a significant return in the areas that matter most to them.  Our research shows that the things that matter most to our members are focused on four main value areas:  Access, Relationships, Leadership and Knowledge.  While these value areas have slightly different meanings to every one of our nearly 1,200 members, every program, committee, service and initiative of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce is designed to deliver these benefits to our members.

What are specific benefits for small business entrepreneurs considering membership?

Of our four main value areas, there is none more important than Relationships.  No matter the industry, market or business size, relationships with customers, prospects, partners and vendors will determine the success of a business.  We offer Loudoun’s small businesses proven opportunities to create and develop truly meaningful relationships that will help their business grow and succeed.  Whether it is our networking events, our LeadShare program or working with fellow business leaders on any of nearly 20 committees, there are no shortage of opportunities for small business owners and their staffs to develop relationships – or gain the access, knowledge and leadership opportunities – to drive their success.

If a business cannot be a member, how can they still participate and benefit from the activities of the Loudoun Chamber?

The Loudoun County Chamber does offer non-member rates to attend our events, but all sponsorships and committee roles are reserved for members only.  So while a non-member can engage the chamber by attending our events, the real value that the Loudoun County Chamber can deliver for their business comes when they choose to “Be a Part Of It!” by joining the county’s most effective business organization.

What services does your staff provide to small businesses?

Every single staff member at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce is trained and committed to serving the needs of our small businesses.  Specific staff members handle the individual committees and programs.  Our Membership Team is well-equipped to work with any small business to give the service and support they need.  And I always welcome the opportunity to meet with any business, of any size, to gain a better understanding of their needs and goals, to figure out how the chamber can help them grow and succeed.

Would you highlight a recent example of how the chamber has advocated for small business at the state or national level?

There are literally dozens of examples, from our effective advocacy to bring the Dulles Rail Project to Loudoun, to our successful efforts in the last Virginia General Assembly session to defeat an unemployment insurance tax increase and to protect Loudoun’s retailers by making Amazon and other large online retailers pay state sales taxes, just as all of our small businesses must.

The best, most recent example was the chamber’s work with Loudoun County Supervisors, staff and other business groups to adopt a series of ordinance and policy changes.  Very soon, Loudoun County will have a business and development application process “ombudsman” dedicated to helping every business work their way through the regulatory process to open a business, develop their property or anything they need government approval to do.  This is particularly helpful for small businesses that don’t have the same resources as larger companies to hire expensive attorneys, engineers and other consultants to fight for them in the business application process.  I give a lot of credit to the Board of Supervisors for their willingness to listen to the business community and to work to create a better atmosphere where the job creators and business investment can succeed.

Is there any advice on growing a business that you would like to share with our entrepreneurial audience?

The chamber’s staff and Board of Directors operate and govern our organization with a business mind set, and we emphasize an entrepreneurial approach in everything we do.  For the chamber, that means listening to our members, focusing on their needs and developing effective programs and services that serve our customers’ interests.  We also emphasize customer service and customer experience above all else.  Lastly, we look to identify new opportunities to serve our members needs and work to quickly develop new ideas to take advantage of those opportunities.  The ability to change and adapt is one of an entrepreneur’s most important assets.