HOWLAND Group forges network

Executive Link is preparing for its annual trade fair March 9 in the Southern Park Mall.
HOWLAND -- When the members of Executive Link get together, they mean business.
If they happen to have some fun and form some friendships along the way, said President Cary Ann Koren, it's just icing on the cake.
Executive Link is a nonprofit, Youngstown-based business networking organization for men and women with a membership roster that fluctuates between 55 and 60.
The focus is on networking meetings, held monthly at locations in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and on the group's annual trade fair at the Southern Park Mall.
The fair is an opportunity to set up a business display for a day -- this year's show is from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. March 9 -- at one of the region's highest-traffic locations. Nonmember businesses may also participate, for a higher fee.
"When somebody asks me if it's worth it to have an exhibit at the trade fair, I just tell them that the Southern Park Mall averages 40,000 to 45,000 people on a Saturday," she said. "You couldn't get 40,000 people to walk into your business in 10 years."
Meeting structure: Meetings are informal, but participants are encouraged to present "30-second commercials" on their businesses before or after lunch. Guest speakers are scheduled each month to discuss a specific aspect of business, such as employee benefits, marketing or business etiquette.
"It's not a social group; it's a networking group," Koren said. "These are busy people, and they join the group because they're looking for ways to help their businesses succeed."
Membership dues are structured to encourage meeting attendance, and group leaders try to keep the cost down to accommodate small companies.
A basic membership costs $50 a year, but $100 pays for a year's membership and six lunches, and $150 pays the membership plus 12 lunches. There are no meeting or guest quotas to meet.
Koren and Jo Ann Truax, the group's vice president of membership, said the networking group is a low-cost way for small businesses to get advice and support and to develop that indispensable asset: contacts.
"Executive Link is the reason I have my own business," Koren said. "That, and my very-supportive husband."
How they joined: The owner of CAK Business Services, a Howland-based event planning and marketing company, Koren said she was working in the marketing department for Sam's Club when she joined the networking group in 1991. Rubbing shoulders with people who had successfully launched their own businesses gave her the confidence to try to do the same herself, she said.
For Truax, who joined the group in 1990, the networking the group offers has provided contacts and referrals for three different positions. She's now a product broker for Market America.
Executive Link has representatives from a wide range of businesses, including travel agents, insurance and cosmetic sales reps, tax preparers, weight loss counselors and financial advisers.
What they like best about the group, Truax and Koren said, is that the members are supportive and encouraging to one another.
"We're always promoting one another," Koren said. "There are no egos involved. If you need help, you want a round table or a focus group, there's always somebody willing to sit down and talk it out. It's all about helping your business to be more profitable."

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