Local independent business group hoping to define itself better, gain members

LACONIA — The Belknap Independent Business Alliance (BIBA) has been around for a little more than four years now. In that time, said executive director Kate Bishop Hamel, local consumers have become much more aware of the greater local impact their dollars have when spent at a locally-owned business.
There's less clarity when it comes to the role of BIBA, and how it fits in the local landscape of business-promoting entities. Hamel, who was hired as the organization's first paid employee earlier this year, hopes to provide some definition for BIBA at the annual meeting later this month. She said current and prospective members are invited, as well as members of the general public who are curious about the organization.
The annual meeting will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 29 at the Beane Conference Center in Laconia. Refreshments will be provided by The Local Eatery, and keynote speaker will be Joe Grafton, a national expert on local economies. There's no charge to attend, though interested parties are asked to RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
"This movement is increasingly building, and has been over the past couple of years," said Hamel, referring to a campaign, furthered nationally by groups such as the American Independent Business Alliance, to urge consumers to seek products or services from local companies that are independently owned. Studies cited by AMIBA and BIBA report that those dollars, as opposed purchases at chain stores, are more likely to be recirculated in the local economy. As Hamel said, "Everybody's building each other up."
A message that BIBA has yet to successfully deliver, said Hamel, is a clear picture of what BIBA is.
As Hamel has found, there is confusion as to why BIBA is necessary when the region already has organizations such as the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the Laconia Main Street Initiative. Unlike the chamber, BIBA exclusively serves independent businesses, Hamel explained. And, unlike Laconia Main Street, Hamel said her organization seeks to serve all of the Lakes Region.
BIBA was started by owners of businesses in downtown Laconia, and has since carried with it a misperception that it's a Laconia-centric organization. It's a misunderstanding that Hamel would like to eradicate, as it's limiting the group's growth. There are currently about 70 BIBA members, scattered throughout the region but most concentrated in Laconia. "Our member base is not as spread out as it could — the opportunity for growth is definitely there," she said.
And, with its first paid director, Hamel said BIBA also has the opportunity to grow the services it offers to its members. She's got a few new offerings, which she plans to announce at the meeting, and hopes to hear feedback after the meeting about the direction in which members would like to see BIBA go. "I want to focus on us moving forward," said Hamel.
Hamel is a Conn. native who lived in Massachusetts during her high school and college years. She moved from Bedford to the Lakes Region about a decade ago. She owns and operates Granite State Mediation Group in Gilford.

Kate Bishop Hamel, the new executive director of the Belknap Independent Business Alliance, said members, prospective members and curious members of the general public are invited to the organization's annual meeting on May 29. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)