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Has the time for the chambers of commerce passed us by? After all, we live in our high–tech worlds with virtual everythings, why keep this stodgy old institution alive?
Actually, chambers are just as viable and vital today as ever before. Indeed, chambers have kept up with the times and the rapidly changing business community of the last 25 years.
There are three distinct types of chambers: the large metropolitan city chamber, the regional chamber, and the smaller city or town chamber. The largest growth area has been in regional chambers. This consolidation occurred as many smaller chambers lost membership and joined together to form a more powerful regional chamber.
Chamber membership consists of the classic real estate agents, bankers, insurance people, and retailers. However, a growing population of SOHO (Small Office, Home Office) have become the fastest–growing new segment of chamber membership.
Chambers often create a strong, singular voice for the business community in a given area. The organization helps protect the interests of businesses in the area — frequently acting as a watchdog of any political issues that might affect the business community. Chambers tackle issues such as laws, including a no–smoking ban in restaurants, parking issues, and a myriad of issues from local town ordinances to national tax issues.
Many times, chambers gain membership because a hot issue gets businesses involved.
Another role a good chamber will play is as a resource of information about the community. Local chamber offices are the keepers of census data, analysis of that data, and other pertinent lifestyle information that could help prospective business owners decide about locating or marketing in the area.
Chambers typically offer education services for their members, hosting seminars, workshops, or speakers on the important issues of the day. The organization is generally able to offer these services at reasonable prices because of the economy of scale. Chambers also help facilitate group buying power for local businesses — offering a variety of group insurance services to programs to process credit card purchases. Many businesses join solely for that purpose.
Being able to network with other businesses in the community is very important and almost critical for the survival of some businesses — and a key mission of many chambers. Many people view the chamber as a place where businesses do business.
Chamber membership is a relatively inexpensive investment, both in time and money. Typically, membership dues can be as low as $25 for a small, home–based business in a small chamber and can vary greatly depending on the chamber size and location.
Years ago the chamber was primarily comprised of retailers that would use the chamber forum as a vehicle to coordinate promotions and advertising initiatives. Now it answers the needs of many emerging home–based businesses that require the support of an external association — the chamber represents a voice louder than their own. As smaller retailers, once the backbone of the chamber, have closed their doors, the role of the chamber has changed as well. That is why many people will ask the question — chambers of commerce, who needs them?
As long as business is about relationships and as long as the strength of many united is stronger than the voice of one, then chambers of commerce will survive and thrive. They may have to reinvent themselves and attract new leaders as the business climate changes, but their importance will always continue.