By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Representatives of chambers of commerce from throughout Shenandoah County are scheduled to meet Wednesday to have the latest round of discussions on the merits of forming a single group.
The county has five chambers -- representing Strasburg, Woodstock, Edinburg, Mt. Jackson and New Market -- and an advisory group with representation from each, as well as someone from Bryce Resort, that meets each month. The idea of combining them into one chamber dates to the 1990s, and is coming up again after Strasburg officials discussed it internally.
Rich Orndorff, president of the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce, said the issue arose as his board of directors discussed finances and trying to get members the most for their money. That doesn't mean a single chamber is the answer, he said, and Wednesday's meeting -- at 6 p.m. at the County Government Center -- is only a part of the beginning of getting input from all five chambers.
"Everyone is concerned because of the economic conditions," Orndorff said. "We want to provide the best services to our members that we can."
Because of limited resources in today's climate, a merger is the best course of action, said Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber in Winchester. He provided advice to county chamber officials during a meeting a month ago.
Collins said there is sure to be disagreement among chamber representatives as each organization likely has a different strategy in promoting its own business community. But, he added, they all are united by one thing -- their location in Shenandoah County.
"The larger the collective voice, the more you can get done, and the more resources you have," Collins said.
Orndorff, a Strasburg councilman, said his chamber has had to deal with cutbacks from the town, putting more importance on Oktoberfest and Mayfest fundraisers.
The chamber's focus, however, should not be fundraising, he said.
"Our effort should be to promote businesses in the Strasburg area," Orndorff said.
County tourism director Natalie Wills said she will support whatever decision chamber officials make. She said the five chambers, as an advisory group, work well together now, particularly in organizing the annual Route 11 Yard Crawl.
"I've been here seven months and have been extremely impressed at the enthusiasm and willingness to communicate," Wills said.
She also understands there are questions to be answered on whether five chambers are too stretched out and if they have competing interests.
Collins said some business owners who have locations in more than one town have to choose which chamber to join, or pay to be a member of each.
A single chamber could fix that, he said.
"It remains to be seen if they can make the numbers work," Collins said. "The individual programs that are unique to communities can still be maintained. I think it will do nothing but help the county do whatever it needs to do for the business community."