For almost 30 years, Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tim Sink has led the organization dedicated to advancing the business of Concord. He’s seen lows – a moribund economy in the early 1990s with flagging Chamber membership – to exhilarating highs, including a renewed downtown and the Concord Chamber becoming New Hampshire’s largest. He sat down for an interview with former Congressman Paul Hodes on WKXL’s Capitol Closeup to reflect on that long, winding road, the community’s resilience during COVID, and lessons learned for the future.
This conversation has been condensed and edited.
What was your path to the chamber?
Tim Sink: I kind of fell into it. I started my career as a music teacher. My brother-in-law joined the Manchester Chamber and said, “Hey, they’re looking for someone to be their membership manager.” And so I joined there, and I really loved the environment and eventually became the number two person at the Manchester Chamber. Then a few years after that, the job in Concord opened up. So I thought, yeah, it’d be kind of cool to run my own chamber. And it’s a great career. The Concord Chamber is just an excellent organization, has a wonderful board of directors, and everyone really cares about the community.
When did you arrive as the director?
Tim Sink: I got here in 1992. In the early nineties, the economic story in Concord wasn’t great.
What do you recall about where Concord and the economy was in those first years?
Tim Sink: It was not a very strong chamber. It had lost a lot of members. It was down to about 450 members. It was in a position to grow, I’ll put it that way! The economy at the time was coming out of the crazy eighties. But there were all kinds of opportunities to grow the organization and to get engaged. One of the areas that we saw that was really important was supporting the Capitol Center for the Arts. The economic impact of the Capitol Center, in particular on Main Street, has been one of the best things that’s happened for this community.
Concord has really become an important cultural destination: the Capitol Center for the arts, the Red River Theater, the Bank of New Hampshire Stage, the New Hampshire League of Craftsmen, plus the Concord Community Music School, which is one of the largest community music schools in any rural area in the country. In addition to the cultural aspects, you have been part of real growth in terms of the business community. Talk to us a little about the mix of businesses that you have seen develop in Concord over time.
Tim Sink: It is a pretty good mix. The big fish in the pond are obviously state government and healthcare, but there are also a lot of entrepreneurs in this area. There’s some under the radar, high-tech manufacturing that’s here too. In terms of the Chamber’s role in how we go about economic development, we focus on making sure that we have top quality of life here so that people coming here will have a great place to live and work: safety, reasonable cost of living, things of that nature. So we focus on things that maintain that, and the cultural scene is definitely one of the more important things, particularly for trying to attract a younger workforce.
One of the things we’ve been able to do is measure the impact of the creative economy through a very robust survey mechanism created by Americans for Prosperity, which is a Washington-based organization that measures the creative economy on a national level every five years. We did it probably more than 10 years ago for a starter, counting up all the money generated for the local economy through the creative and cultural institutions. The first time we came up with very significant numbers. Fast forward another five years, we did the same survey, and the numbers doubled. These were real, hard numbers, and they were huge. So we knew we were on the right track.
We’ve come through a really challenging time. How are your members dealing with it, and what do you see for the future?
Tim Sink: The last year was pretty scary. We didn’t know how we were going to get through this. But we did. And a lot of the chamber’s role had to do with working with businesses that needed to access resources, or needed to find out how to access funds. Some needed information on the ins and outs of forgiveness of debt from PPP loans. We were able to help with all of those, although we were also on a huge learning curve. We just did a tremendous amount of education.
We really cannot afford another full shutdown. And I think we’ve learned some lessons the first time around that we can be much more selective in terms of how we deal with this, the precautions that we need to take. We know about social distancing. We know about mask mandates or other practices in terms of mask-wearing and what to do in public. And we can be much more selective in terms of how we go about affecting certain parts of the economy.
And these days, how many members does the chamber have?
Tim Sink: We have around 910. So it’s a pretty good size chamber. In terms of numbers of members, we’re actually the largest chamber in the state. Manchester may be ahead of us in revenue because they’ve got bigger corporations and we’ve got a lot of smaller businesses. But, we have a lot of loyal members and it’s a great community. This community supports the chamber. And I can’t tell you what that means to me. u