By Sam Prickett
Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Powell has seen the city and the chamber grow “quite a bit” during his 22 years in that position.
“We’ve quadrupled our membership since I’ve been here,” Powell said of the chamber, which during his tenure expanded from roughly 300 members to 1,200. Part of that, he jokes, is due to the chamber’s “restrictive” admittance policy.
“You have to either have a business in Hoover, do business in Hoover, want to do business in Hoover, or occasionally drive through Hoover,” he laughs. “That gets just about everybody, because you can’t go to the beach without driving through Hoover, at least not from this area.”
Powell said the chamber boasts members from states as far away as Utah, California and Pennsylvania, all of whom are invested in the area “for various reasons.”
Powell, who announced last month that he would retire from his position at the end of the year, cites that growth as one of his proudest achievements as head of the chamber.
The 71-year-old said he’s also proud of the chambers’ efforts to recognize city employees and first responders, a program he implemented in his first year as executive director. Initially, awards were given only to firefighters and police officers, but gradually the awards have expanded to include paramedics, 911 operators and detention officers.
There’s also the Freedom Award, which also started during Powell’s tenure, that honors citizens with “good character” who have demonstrated support of the military – typically a veteran.
“We’ve had some really outstanding people win that, including a guy who was a marine on Iwo Jima,” Powell said.
Has the business climate in Hoover changed during his 22 years in the job? Powell said that, despite the Summit’s emergence as a shopping competitor to the Riverchase Galleria, the climate “has always been good.”
“Even through the Great Recession that we had, our membership did not decline, and the Hoover city government has never had to lay off any employees because of reduced tax revenue,” Powell said. “With the leadership in the city of Hoover through the years, we’ve been able to do quite well – both the city and the chamber.”
Even so, Powell said he sees a looming threat to local business in the form of Amazon and the online shopping industry.
“I think that’s one of the problems that’s hurting businesses all over the country, because for so many people, it’s just second nature to get on the internet and order things through Amazon or through somewhere else online,” he said.
“Local businesses don’t have the opportunity to make that (sale), and as such, they don’t collect sales tax for the state, city and county that the municipalities need.”
Developing a Niche
Powell said he’s encouraged by local businesses such as Wrapsody, a Hoover- and Auburn-based gift boutique, that are able to develop their own distinctive niche.
“They’ve got something different,” he said. “I love to see small businesses like them succeed.”
In the future, Powell said he believes the chamber “is going to continue to be an important asset to the city and to the community,” and, hopefully, to those outside the community as well.
He mentions a recent visit to the chamber by a couple from Silicon Valley, California, who were considering a move to Hoover.
“They were so impressed with the area, and we gave them all kinds of information … . The chamber of commerce always provides a lot of information to visitors, so we spent a good amount of time with them talking about the benefits of the area and comparing certain suburbs or areas to others and giving them some insight.”
That outreach, he says, is essential.
“There are always conventions and conferences coming to Hoover, particularly to the two big hotels that we have here, the Embassy and the Wynfrey, and often we’re approached to see what we can give,” he said. “We put out a new magazine every year talking about the benefits of Hoover. And recently, one major publication selected Hoover as the 17th-best city in America to live. So that was impressive.”
The Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce is in the process of finding a new director. Powell said he will remain in his position until the end of the year, or, if needed to help with the transition, through January.