A Merger, A Name Change, and A Partnership: Chambers of Commerce Realign

There’s some movement among business associations in the Land of Steady Habits, with economic realities driving a new merger, a name change, and a partnership.

The Guilford and Branford Chambers of Commerce have merged, effective on New Year’s Day.  The new merged entity is called the Shoreline Chamber of Commerce - Guilford/Branford Alliance.  The merger was approved by the Boards of Directors and membership of both organizations in recent weeks.  branford

At a Special Meeting earlier this month, the membership of the Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce voted to change the organization’s name to Midstate Chamber of CommerceMeriden Chamber President Sean W. Moore, said that “Midstate Chamber of Commerce reflects the inclusivity of this chamber’s membership throughout the central Connecticut region and reaffirms our commitment to ALL of the businesses and communities we serve.”

While not “official” until March 1, members and the communities can start to see changes as soon as next week.  A new website, www.midstatechamber.com, will transition from the existing website in the coming weeks.  The Chamber has more than 550 members.

The Middletown-baschamber_sign_250x175pxed Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce remains by far the state’s largest, with over 2,350 members that employ over 50,000 people.  The organization, led by longtime President Larry McHugh, “strives to be the voice of business in Middlesex County and the surrounding area,” according to its website.

In the Guilford-Branford merger, the plan calls for the board of directors of the two corporations to merge into one board containing up to 37 members. As terms of directors expire, the number of directors will be reduced to no more than 21, with up to 7 selected from Branford, up to 7 selected from Guilford, and up to 7 selected from the entire membership.  The merged organization will have an office in each town.

Guilford has 320 members and Branford has about 350.  The first event of the joint organization will be a Business After Hours networking event on January 28 at Page Hardware & Appliance in Guilford.  It is co-hosted by Bailey, Murphy and Scarano, a CPA firm in Branford.  A logo for the newly merged association has yet to be unveiled.

A statement by the organization pointed out that “this proactive move will allow members to double their audience, double their market and provide enhanced networking opportunities.” The websites of the former Branford and Guilford websites are still active, and announcing the merger.  Among the advantages cited are:

  •  Increased marketing and promotional opportunities through distribution of publications, website visits and email communications
  • Better educational programs for professional development
  • More signature events to attend and potentially sponsor as each town and chamber will continue and maintain this type of event
  • Two Shoreline Locations along with a larger staff to assist business
  • Larger social media presence and website traffic to membership pages
  • Opportunity to re-brand as a member of  a larger more influential 650-member chamber
  • Eventual gain of resources through economies of scale, allowing more money to go directly to member services
  • Enhanced technology for website referrals and member servicesmeridenChamber-Logo

Janet Testa, executive director for the Guilford Chamber, told the New Haven Register that 99 percent of members wanted the merger. She said her organization is always looking for ways to serve its members by “joining forces” with others. Ed Lazarus, president of the Branford Chamber, believes combining the chambers will benefit both communities. “Businesses will be represented the way they’re used to but with a combined staff,” the Register reported.

It is not the first Chamber merger in Connecticut.  In 1989, the North Haven Chamber joined the Wallingford Chamber to form the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.  That business association has grown to more than 700 members.

Last fall the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce (GNHCC) and The Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce announced the formation of a strategic affiliation between the two organizations, “creating a stronger, more streamlined collaboration that will work together to move the region forward.” As of October 15, 2013, the Greater New Havenew haven chambern Chamber and the Quinnipiac Chamber began to “officially collaborate on all aspects of their respective organizations, while continuing to operate as separate business units in separate office locations.”

In 2003, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce was formed around the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, “in an effort to expand the area it benefited and to enable the Chamber to assist more members. This allowed the Chamber to expand from covering just Bristol to the entire Central Connecticut region,” the website points out.  The Central Connecticut Chambers – with a combined membership of approximately 1800 - is composed of several affiliate chambers including those of Bristol, Bloomfield , Burlington, Farmington, Plymouth/Terryville and Wolcott.

In terms of membership numbers, after the Middlesex Chamber and Central Connecticut Chambers, the next largest are the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, with 1,600 members; the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, with 730 members; and the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.  The MetroHartford Alliance is #6, with 600 members (although it may now be eclipsed by the newly combined Shoreline Chamber), followed by chambers from Greater Southington  (590 members), Greater Manchester, Greater Meriden and Glastonbury (each with approximately 550 members) and West Hartford, approaching 500 member businesses.