The GOA marks 40 years of supporting suburban business

  • GOA Regional Business Association President Shirlanne Lemm has been with the business advocacy group for 35 of The GOA's 40 years.

      GOA Regional Business Association President Shirlanne Lemm has been with the business advocacy group for 35 of The GOA's 40 years. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Roz Dixon

    Roz Dixon

  • Sarah Bessler

    Sarah Bessler

Posted9/13/2019 1:00 AM

You could say Shirlanne Lemm and The GOA Regional Business Association grew up together.

The association is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year as a key advocacy and networking group for suburban businesses. Lemm, who's been GOA's president and CEO since 2009, has been with the organization for 35 of those 40 years.


Both have shared the experience of watching the suburbs grow in the prosperity of the late 20th Century, as well as the evolution of businesses in the early 21st Century.

When The GOA formed from the merger of the Elk Grove Village and Bensenville chambers of commerce in 1979, Lemm said, the idea was the suburban business community would find strength through unity.

"Our tagline (at the time) was 'We could do much more together,'" she said. "By joining the organizations, they would have a more powerful voice on political and business issues."

Since then, the organization has been an active advocate for local business, providing services from networking events and workshops to lobbying state lawmakers in Springfield for legislation that supports business.

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Throughout the years, Lemm and The GOA have seen several changes in the business community, some of which have provided additional challenges for many business organizations.

Membership, for one, has been a factor. Lemm notes that 40 years ago, members would usually stay with the same company for most of their careers, which provided continuity. Today, members come and go as they move from one company to another, which has put the onus on organizations to recruit new company member when one leaves that company.

"People are a lot more fluid in their jobs now," she said.

The GOA currently has about 800 members representing local businesses, as well as companies from Wisconsin to Kankakee, Lemm said.

"Part of the thing that has been great for us is that because we're regional, a lot of our events are well attended," she added.

Social media and the way people communicate and network through sites such as LinkedIn and Instagram has also been a challenge. But, Lemm noted the fear many years ago that online networking would replace chambers and business organizations never panned out, as people have continued to find more value in face-to-face networking.


"You do business with the people you know, like and trust," she said, "and just knowing someone from Facebook ... you don't know them personally.

"There's always going to be a place for an organization such as ours that brings businesses together and creates the opportunity for you to build relationships."

What social media has brought, though, is a significant change in the way people communicate -- especially with Millennials. Lemm said the organization has adapted to reach business people -- from Baby Boomers to Millennials -- through the channels each generation is comfortable with.

"You run the gamut," she said. "So we'll print scheduled events that we mail out, but we also send them out on Facebook and Instagram."

Lemm said that while the association has accomplished much for its members during its 40 years, she finds the most satisfaction from seeing local members grow and become successful.

"Our whole purpose is that we are pro-business advocates," she said. "We go to Springfield and fight for the betterment for business. But creating that opportunity for people to connect and grow their business ... I don't think that will ever go out of style."

Meeting up

Welcome to Roz Dixon and Sarah Bessler, who recently joined Schaumburg-based Meet Chicago Northwest's sales team.

Dixon will manage association and corporate accounts in the U.S. and Canada, east of Mississippi River. She previously worked with First Hospitality Group for five years and had been with the opening team with Marathon Petroleum's corporate campus in Findlay, Ohio. Dixon is pursuing a MBA through Herzing University and received her BBA in advertising and marketing management from Northwood University in Midland Mich.

Bessler is managing similar accounts west of the Mississippi River and Wisconsin. She recently held several leadership positions with Pinstripes, and before that was with DoubleTree Hotel in Saint Paul, Minnesota as a catering sales manager. Bessler is a graduate from Kendall College's School of Hospitality with an emphasis in meeting and event planning.

"They are both dynamic sales professionals with strong hospitality sales experience. We are confident they will execute our sales strategies and contribute to the success of our region," said Meet Chicago Northwest President Dave Parulo.

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