Chamber Celebrates 125th Anniversary

Donna Lane
#1 – (L to R) Norwood Selectman Tom Maloney; Staples Studio’s Colette Fearnley; Chamber President Tom O’Rourke; Helen Donohue; and Norfolk County Register of Deeds William O’Donnell.
Issue Date: 
November, 2019
Article Body: 

The Neponset River Regional Chamber of Commerce (formerly known as the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce) celebrated its 125th anniversary on September 19. While the name may have changed, the Chamber’s primary mission of advocating for the business community has not.
Tom O’Rourke, President and CEO of the Chamber for the past nine years (and in chamber management positions for the last 30 years) said one of the major changes in the Chamber over the years, is that “it has expanded its focus from strictly a business-to-business organization to include the community at large, education and government.”
Its business development model states that a healthy business environment means a healthy community, so while the Chamber is still working to ensure a positive environment for business by working with local and state officials to help communities secure, retain and expand businesses for the region, it is now including schools; specifically, to bring career awareness to students to broaden their perspectives as to what opportunities are available to them. In the broad sense, they are helping support business through workforce development, which has changed drastically in the last 10 years and will undoubtedly change in the next 10. O’Rourke gave Norwood Hospital as an example.
“When most students think of a hospital, they think of doctors and nurses as the main opportunities for employment,” O’Rourke said. “They don’t think about lab technicians and other technical or clinical jobs that are needed to make a large hospital run smoothly. So, we are working to inform and prepare students for some of the job skills they will need to transition from schools to the workplace. This includes what we call ‘soft skills,’ like getting to work on time and communicating effectively with people.”
With the advent of cell phones and social media, lack of communication, is an often-reported problem many young people have today. O’Rourke said that later this year the Chamber will work with students on how to prepare for an interview.
The Chamber has supported tax incentive programs offered by the state that have provided opportunities for local and regional businesses of all sizes to conduct business with each other in the region. They have also been involved with transportation initiatives through the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is responsible for conducting the federally required metro transportation-planning process for our area. The Chamber is a voting member of the organization. O’Rourke said that our Chamber was one of the lead advocates of adding another lane to Route 128 – a task that began about 10 years ago and is finally complete.
There are nearly 500 businesses from the region that belong to the Neponset River Chamber. The towns represented are, Canton, Dedham, Foxborough, Medfield, Milton, Norfolk, Norwood, Randolph, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole, and Westwood. The original Chamber started in Norwood, but as the Chamber has grown, its membership is more representative of all of the communities mentioned.
Early in its history, the Chamber helped to bring Plympton Press to Norwood. More recently, it worked to help bring Moderna Therapeutics to our town that brought with it some 200 potential jobs. Along with the education and business initiatives for Norwood, the Chamber is also working with the Town Manager and Council on Aging to make Norwood more “age-friendly” for seniors.
“Our Chamber is a member of the New England Association of Chambers, an organization that shares ideas, best practices, what’s working and what’s not among its members,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke will soon become president (a volunteer position) of that group for one year.
The New England Association has been advocating for clean energy in business, simple things, such as lighting retrofits that can make a huge difference in energy use for all chambers in the region. They are also working with businesses to help provide their employees with the tools to lower their healthcare costs (e.g., providing wellness plans, ensuring regular check-ups, and advocating for urgent care vs emergency room visits when needed).
Asked if any local member businesses stand out in helping the Chamber pursue its goals, O’Rourke mentioned Norwood Bank, Rockland Trust, Norwood Hospital, Poirier, Conrad’s, Lewis’, Dedham Savings, and Bank of Canton as always being there – especially when it comes to helping the community.
“They seldom say no to anything we ask,” O’Rourke said.
Residents can access members of the Chamber online at The website has the most up-to-date information on doing business locally. It also has helpful links that provide access to useful information about the region.
Yes, the Internet makes shopping easy for you. But consider checking out what Chamber members have to offer residents – from roofing materials, to restaurants, to air conditioning, to healthcare, banking, and many other goods and services, the Chamber is making a difference in our community. They are working to support us. Shouldn’t we support them?