By Sally Voth - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Strasburg Chamber of Commerce is not planning to join the newly announced Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, its president said Tuesday.
That's in contrast to what Woodstock Chamber Executive Director Jenna French said last week. French, who said the transition to the countywide entity would be complete by next March, said the chambers in Strasburg and New Market would remain open while participating in the regional one. She said those in Edinburg and Mt. Jackson would likely be absorbed into the new chamber.
However, Strasburg Chamber President Rich Orndorff likened the move to a "Wall Street hostile takeover."
"To me and to our board, our feeling was this was to be a collaborative effort, this was to be joint," he said in a Tuesday afternoon interview. "It wasn't supposed to be a Wall Street hostile takeover."
Orndorff said his chamber did initiate discussions which led to an exploratory committee looking into a regional body.
"That's been discussed for probably about 15-20 years," he said.
The Strasburg Chamber feels the move by Woodstock is a little premature, according to Orndofff.
"We're not joining at this point at my board's direction simply for the fact that we don't have enough information," he said. "We have no idea of the financial structure. We have not seen a budget. The other concern we had was the board makeup."
Plus, there are questions regarding the status of the town's local chamber office and staff member, Orndorff said.
He referenced an email from French to Woodstock chamber members which says that during an April 9 meeting, each chamber was asked to come up with suggestions regarding a regional effort and a financial plan.
"The outcome of the meeting ended in a standstill: Each locality supported the creation of a countywide chamber, but there was simply no agreement on a financial framework to comprehensively integrate the localities; there was also a strong desire for each local chamber to stand alone in order to maintain its local identity," the email states.
Among the reasons the email gives for pursuing a county chamber are a quarter of the Woodstock Chamber's membership is drawn from outside of town, more members are needed to keep it financially strong, and doing so would bring more exposure to member businesses.
The email proposes some bylaw changes, such as having board members from all over the county, keeping French as executive director for the first two years and setting up local advisory councils.
"There's really no opposition to any of those ideas," Orndorff said. "It's just the fact that nothing was spelled out.
"We proposed that we start small because there was some question about whether or not we would maintain an office. Geographically, we have a very long county. We receive [a] generous financial contribution from the town of Strasburg.
"It appears to me like a Wall Street hostile takeover, and it appears like a collaborative effort has now become well, this is what we're going to do, get on the train, the train's pulling out. That concerns us. We're the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce, and we're going to remain the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce."
The New Market Chamber of Commerce hasn't decided what to do yet, according to board member Cathy Wittig-Donald.
"I think we were waiting to see what happened with that," she said on Tuesday. "We knew that it was going to come to a vote [in Woodstock]. We've been discussing it. There hasn't been a decision yet."