By Sally Voth - firstname.lastname@example.org
After years of discussion, Shenandoah County businesses are moving closer to forming a countywide chamber of commerce.
The Woodstock Chamber of Commerce voted Tuesday to change its name to the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce. In an interview on Wednesday, Jenna French, executive director of the town body, said the vote for the transition, which will be complete by March, was unanimous.
"We've actually been talking with the other chambers for almost a year now," French said. "The Strasburg chamber had initiated conversations last year about us all possibly merging."
And, while Strasburg and New Market intend to participate in the countywide effort, they plan to maintain their local chambers, she said. French said it appeared Edinburg and Mt. Jackson would dissolve their own chambers.
A chamber advisory group made up of representatives from each chamber had been meeting monthly with Natalie Wills, Shenandoah County tourism and marketing director, and Jim Watson, Bryce Resort sales director, French said.
She said the effort had been pushed by former county tourism and economic development director Susie Hill.
"We just think that there's great benefits to our members," French said.
Feedback from Woodstock Chamber members through surveys showed there was a great deal of support for the all-county effort, French said. She said 25 percent of the chamber's members are from out of town.
Wills said Wednesday the county hasn't been involved in forming the new entity.
"Since they're kind of membership-driven and we're tax-based driven, it's a little different," she said. "We will work with them in any way we can."
Justin Wightman, who is on the board of directors of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks it's a good move.
"For starters, Edinburg -- as a lot of towns are -- is kind of struggling with the businesses staying open," he said.
In recent years, the number of active chamber participants has been "taking a steady decline." But, a county chamber could have more than 400 members, Wightman said.
"It could be a very strong organization, and provide a lot of value to members of the organization," he said.
The idea has been tossed around for years, WIghtman said.
"Forty years ago, business was done within town limits more than it is now," he said. "I think it's an exciting prospect. I think it's going to benefit everybody involved. Some of the concerns that were voiced [were] that some of the towns would be lost in the mix...I don't have any fear of that at all."
For more information about the chamber, go to woodstockvachamber.com, or call 459-2542.