04/18/10 — Chamber lays off two staff, battles shortfall

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Chamber lays off two staff, battles shortfall

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 18, 2010 1:50 AM

Faced with declining membership and a tough budget situation this year, the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce eliminated its two membership positions Friday.

In an e-mail from Chamber President Steve Hicks and Chamber Board of Directors Chairwoman Julie Daniels, the Chamber's board members were told that the decision was the result of a review of the Chamber's financial situation, specifically over the last three years, that showed a net loss in both membership investment and non-dues income.

"In order to balance this year's budget we must reduce expenses and develop new ways to attract and retain members," the e-mail reads. "As a result, unfortunately, it has become necessary to reduce staff and restructure our organization."

And that meant the elimination of the membership and marketing director and membership services manager positions, which were held by Patti Graham and Jessica Bravo, respectively.

"What we have is an economy that has been very trying for our business community, and we've felt it at the Chamber as well," Hicks said Friday.

He explained that as businesses cut expenses in the down economy, one cost they invariably look at were their Chamber dues, and that over the last three years, they have seen a net loss in membership.

And while the Chamber's recent new membership drive was reasonably successful -- nearly 170 new members, just short of the 200 membership goal -- Hicks said they were also concerned about their membership retention.

"We're not having the renewals we'd like," he said. "I think the economy is having a tremendous impact. When the economy is down, our business is down."

And, Ms. Daniels said, while they had worked to reduce business expenses and were looking for other cost-saving measures and even some revenue-producing ones, it just became apparent that something would have to be done to remain financially stable.

"We had to make tough choices about what to do," she said. "And we made the decision, which was a very tough decision to make, to eliminate those positions."

Taking over those duties will be Hicks, who, in the e-mail to the board members announced that he will become responsible for membership recruitment and retention, and that he would be working the Chamber leadership team and its volunteers "to develop a close working relationship with all Chamber members."

"(Steve) is going to become more of the face of the Chamber than perhaps he has been," Ms. Daniels said.

After all, she said, the Chamber's membership is what keeps it a viable organization.

She also explained that the decision comes at a time when the Chamber's entire organization is about to overhauled as the board is set to vote on a new five-year strategic plan on Thursday that they hope will help make the Chamber a more relevant and useful organization for its members and the rest of the business community.

"We've been looking at this strategic plan and how to re-invent the Chamber overall," she said.