The Mission Resources Group, a consulting agency on Hilton Head Island, met with some in the local business community Thursday to talk about ways to improve programs offered by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
About 20 people turned out for the 90-minute forum held at the Hilton Head Public Service District Community Room.
Paul Jacobson, the group's president, opened by stressing the event was not sanctioned by the chamber.
"We are a completely independent entity, and no one has engaged us to do this session," he said. "This is to identify what you want your chamber to do -- nothing more than that."
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No one in the audience raised a hand when Jacobson asked whether there were any salaried chamber staffers in attendance.
Large adhesive sheets hung on the walls, some listing existing small-business support programs offered by the chamber.
Jacobson said the chamber declined his agency's request to provide a full list of programs.
Attendees took turns offering suggestions for new chamber programs or for improving existing ones. An MRG representative wrote those suggestions -- about 80 in all -- on the sheets.
Attendees were then asked to identify suggestions they supported by placing color-coded stickers, each worth a different number of points, beneath suggestions.
The most popular suggestions included providing free business meeting space on Hilton Head and in Bluffton, creating and sponsoring a health care exposition and utilizing local businesses more often.
Jacobson said the results would be shared with the chamber by Jan. 1 and discussed in more detail at a Jan. 26 forum.
"We're gratified folks felt strongly enough to share their thoughts," he said.
"Not as many as I wanted," interjected Paul Gibson, the agency's vice president.
Attendee Diana Bourgeois called the gathering productive, adding it was instructive to learn more about the chamber's programs.
"I think a lot of people just don't know what the chamber does," she said. "The communication issue is vital."
Others seemed optimistic about the forum's impact.
"The guys did a good job," said Skip Hoagland, who has criticized the chamber in recent, full-page newspaper advertisements. "They heard our questions, and we'll send a message. The chamber as we have it is going to have to change."
But support for the session was hardly unanimous.
Several grumbled when Jacobson said criticism of chamber policy would not be tolerated, and Philip Schembra left in frustration a few minutes into the meeting.
"This was nowhere near what I thought it was going to be," he said.
"I thought it would be a much more open discussion with open dialogue," Schembra said. "If we can't talk about both sides of the coin, how are we going to learn anything?"
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.