CHATHAM – Since its founding in 1942, the Chatham Chamber of Commerce has welcomed only those businesses based in town to join its ranks. Some out-of-town enterprises that didn't compete with locally-owned businesses were allowed to join on a case-by-case basis, but for the most part the chamber maintained a closed membership. In recent years it was the last Cape chamber to do so.
Now the Chatham Chamber has joined other chambers on the Cape in opening up its membership to non-Chatham-based businesses.
“The aims and goals of what we are doing aren't changing,” said Chamber President Scott Hamilton. The chamber's purpose, according to its bylaws, is to “advance the business, commercial, industrial, civic, social, cultural and general interests of the town of Chatham and vicinity,” and that won't be diluted by opening up membership to businesses from outside of town, he said.
In fact, it may help augment the chamber's mission, because having more members means more revenue, which will help with another of the organization's goals, to enhance the marketing of Chatham.
“This is a way to do that,” Hamilton said, adding that increasing the town's profile helps fill hotel beds and restaurant seats, which is not only good for the overall local economy but brings in more revenue to the town in the form of the occupancy and meals taxes, “which is good for Chatham.”
Increasing the number of members will also help to keep the cost of dues down, Hamilton added.
The chamber currently has 308 members, who pay annual dues ranging from $90 for an associate member to $520 for financial institutions and utilities.
The idea of opening up membership has been discussed in the past, Hamilton said, but there were always members who felt it was important to remain exclusive. However, there's been a change in that attitude in recently years, and now “the vast majority [of members] said it only makes sense.”
Chamber officials spent three months getting input on the idea from members and had discussions at board meetings. Most agreed that opening up membership would be a positive step. He made it clear that the chamber's mission remains unchanged.
“What we are going to be marketing is Chatham,” he said, not any other town. “We are 100 percent Chatham.”
Members enjoy several benefits, including advertising in the annual chamber book, which is picked up by thousands of visitors every year, as well as access to group health insurance, involvement in chamber events and committees. Members also get a link on the chamber's website, www.chathaminfo.com, which Hamilton said is the group's main marketing tool that's becoming more of a destination website for those looking for information about the town. Most of the group's marketing is now devoted to online resources, “and that just costs money,” Hamilton said.