Thoughts on Possible Chamber Merger

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Economic Development
Tags: , , ,

It seems that the Montgomery and Fulton County Chambers of Commerce are giving serious consideration to merging. I have mixed feelings on the idea, depending on how I look at the role of the COC in the business community.

On one hand, I think a merger could very well benefit some types of businesses. My own experience of being a member of the COC from 2008 through 2010 was positive and beneficial experience. By attending  a small fraction of the available networking events (such as mixers, grand opening events, business expo), I gained five new clients, with an additional two clients gained directly from COC referrals. The amount of business I gained from those seven clients far exceeded the cost of membership. In addition, having the opportunity to participate in COC sponsored mentoring workshops at the middle school and high school were highly rewarding for me personally. Being that my service (web site design) was in demand by many businesses, the COC was a great “marketplace” for my business. Access to a larger market, for the same price, would certainly benefit a business such as my own.

However, the perception that the COC is oriented toward and primarily benefits larger businesses is one that continues to persist. I remember one  event I attended. There was a small sub shop opening up on Market St in Amsterdam. The grand opening event was promoted by the COC just the same as any other event. When I showed up, however, it was only me, COC President Deborah Auspelmyer (who I give credit for consistently having a genuinely positive and welcoming attitude), and maybe 1 or 2 other COC officers. The storefront was very neat and the quality of food was really good. But the business community just didn’t show up for this. I ordered from the shop several times after that, but unfortunately the quality seemed to decrease each time and eventually the shop went out of business months later.

Such is life, obviously some business plans just don’t work out. Perhaps the business struggled to attract traffic and rather than increasing their efforts to market their good product, they opted to skimp on their ingredients, thus creating a death spiral for the business (which is a lesson for Amsterdam in itself). But either way, this appears to be a case where this particular business owner’s COC membership did not help much at all. Perhaps a larger turnout at their grand opening would have given them the jumpstart they needed to remain a viable business.

So I think with a merged Fulton/Montgomery County Chamber, we will see a benefit to well-established, larger, regionally oriented businesses and organizations, as well as for smaller “business to business” vendors looking to market their products or services to other businesses. However, I don’t see the merger as being at all beneficial to newer, smaller, restaurants, retailers, or other local services (ie exactly the types of businesses that we need to revitalize our downtown area, Market Hill area, or other neighborhoods.) In fact, I think these types of small businesses will find it even harder to see a return on an investment in a COC membership as grand openings for these are going to get increasingly lost in an even larger events calendar.

Perhaps a more locally oriented organization is needed to supplement the Chamber in promoting and helping smaller businesses in the city of Amsterdam? I know such organizations have existed before and haven’t continued, but maybe it’s time to try again? I’d be glad to hear other viewpoints in the comments section!

  1. karin says:

    Why don’t the small busineses do a nice flyer together, with a little info on each of us and everyone have them to pass out at their place of business and we all pitch in for the cost of printing – maybe we can leave them in the hotel lobbies and City Hall. Just an idea and I would be interested in being a part of something like this. . . . . .

  2. robert purtell says:

    I am not confident that there will be a significant impact from the merger, I am also not sure what the defined role is or should be for the Chamber. How does one measure the outcomes of the Chambers?
    I would suggest, as a member of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, that we have a defined outcome and mission that makes sense in todays world, as well as being achievable.
    From there you can make better plans.

  3. xsubsquid says:

    My fear is that a merger of the two institutions will cause the Chamber of Commerce to move off the corner of Fulton and Main Streets in Gloversville.

    This would be a hard shock to the city’s core which already has very few places giving people a reason to come downtown.

    It could be overcome by relocating City Hall into the building and back on Main Street where it never should have left, but what are the odds that will get authorized?

    I am also concerned about what I think will be the inevitable infighting when either Fulton or Montgomery County businesses feel one or the other is getting a bigger slice of the Chamber’s monetary pie.

    I think combining the Chambers without combining the counties is unwise.

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