Chambers of Commerce discuss possible merger

Representatives of the Glastonbury Chamber of Commerce (l-r) Bobby DiBella, Peter Billard, President Mary Ellen Dombrowski and Jay Fromer, all took part in the Business Day event in 2013, where several chambers were represented at the Legistative Office Building in Hartford. File photo by Steve Smith. (August 7, 2014)

Representatives of the South Windsor, Tolland County, East Hartford and Glastonbury Chambers of Commerce released a statement on July 30 which said that, in the best interest of their members, they have begun discussing the formation of a regional organization that would encompass those four chambers, as well as the Marlborough Business Association.

"We signed a letter of intent to go to the table and talk about the chambers coming together as one premier organization, but still keeping our local flavor," said Candice Corcione, executive director of the Tolland County Chamber of Commerce.

"There's absolutely no commitment right now," said Glastonbury Chamber President Mary Ellen Dombrowski. "It may make all the sense in the world when the story's over, and it may make sense for just two or three to join together, or it may make sense for nobody. It's way too early to tell."

South Windsor Chamber Executive Director Shari Fiveash said that informal discussions have been taking place for years, and part of the impetus for exploring the options is because most of the chambers in the state - and elsewhere - are of the larger, more regional variety.

"If you look around the state, we are some of the few that have not merged with other communities, so we are actually in the minority," Fiveash said.

Other regional chambers, including the Eastern Connecticut, Middlesex County and Greater New Haven Chambers of Commerce, have been researched and contacted.

"All of them say they would do it again," Fiveash said, "and that it was always the right thing to do."

Fiveash said a move to a regional-type of chamber makes sense for chamber members, for a variety of reasons.

"For their ability to reach other communities," she said. "So that you are able to reach out to people beyond your local community. We'd have a very nice cross-network that we'd be able to grow."

"I could see that it would be a distinct advantage for small business, because they'll have a broader consumer base to choose from," Corcione said.

While the move's advantages would seem to outweigh the disadvantages, some members are still unsure and naturally concerned about change.

"All of us are very concerned about what's the best thing to do for our members," Fiveash said. "If we determine that there is no substantial benefit, then we will stay as we are currently structured."

Feedback from members so far has largely consisted of questions.

"I've had a lot of positive, and numerous questions about how things would work, but I can't really answer that, because I don't really know," Fiveash said.

Ultimately, Fiveash said, the decision will lie with the members, and that the onus on the chambers at this point in time is to gather information and pass it along to the memberships. "I want our members knowledgeable, because at first blush, they might not know all of the information," Fiveash said.

Fiveash added that since the announcement was first released, two other chambers have approached her about joining the discussion.

If it comes to fruition, the new entity would be one of the largest chambers in the state.

"That would demand some respect and hold some clout as we try and do things at the state Capitol and probably at the federal level, too," Fiveash said.

Two discussion meetings are scheduled for this month, with the next taking place Aug. 14.