Caribou Chamber restructuring divides roles

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 28, 2011, at 10:40 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — Officials said late this week that a restructuring within the Caribou Chamber of Commerce and Industry will have positive benefits for the organization and the city.

The Chamber’s board of directors and its members voted overwhelmingly this week to restructure the CCC&I to establish a stand-alone Chamber of Commerce.

The move will free up the Chamber to be a better resource for city businesses, and to develop more projects and functions to showcase Caribou stores, shops and other entities, Joe Sleeper, president of Caribou Chamber, said on Thursday.

Shawn Anderson, CCC&I treasurer, said the restructuring has been under consideration for more than a year.

As it existed before the restructuring, the nonprofit organization provided economic development services and business loans, as well as traditional Chamber of Commerce benefits for its members and the residents of Caribou.

The CCC&I was created after the former Caribou Development Corp. and the Caribou Chamber of Commerce merged into one agency in 2000. According to its website, the CCC&I was the only combined economic development agency and chamber of commerce in Maine until the decision was made to restructure.

Anderson said the city customarily has provided funding for the organization to spearhead economic development within Caribou and lure new businesses and industries into the city.

“In the past few years, we have been increasingly skeptical about our ability to do that both effectively and cost effectively,” he said. “We have reached the conclusion that we just aren’t getting the job done. It was becoming increasingly difficult to act both as a chamber of commerce and as an economic development arm.”

“We weren’t accomplishing much in terms of economic development,” Sleeper added. “We didn’t feel right accepting funding for it. That is when we decided to explore the idea of separating the two so that we could function solely as a chamber.”

The CCC&I board initially voted to become a stand-alone chamber of commerce. They then asked their membership to vote. Anderson said that 75 percent of those who voted supported the idea. More than half of the members voted.

Steven Buck, city manager of Caribou, said Friday the move would save the city approximately $100,000 a year.

Buck said the city gave CCC&I $150,000 in 2009 and $145,500 in 2010. This year, city councilors are considering a proposal to allot $40,000 to the stand-alone Chamber of Commerce.

Anderson said the move “will allow us as a Chamber to go about being a resource for local businesses.”

“It will allow us more time to showcase our existing businesses and develop projects and functions to show off the city and all that we have to offer here.” he continued.

Buck agreed.

“I see the positive benefits in it,” he said Friday. “It will free up the Chamber to concentrate only on Chamber events,” he said. “They can function as they have always wanted to for local businesses.”

At this point, Buck said, the city is considering combining their community development office with a new economic development office in order to attract new business and industries to the city. He said city officials are discussing what the new combined community and economic development office will look like in terms of staffing.

Anderson said the approximately 150 members are in favor of the change.

“We have had a great response from our membership since we’ve made this decision,” he said. “There is a renewed sense of spirit and enthusiasm among business owners.”

Both stressed that the Chamber will continue to function as it has in the past, and that all of the favorite community activities, and some new ones, will go forward as planned.

“February is a very busy month in Caribou,” Sleeper said. “We have the Caribou Winter Carnival and events surrounding the World Cup Biathlon. We also have our annual dinner on April 1. In the summer, all of the big events such as the citywide yard sale and the fall arts and crafts fair will continue as scheduled. We think that this restructuring is going to be a positive experience for everyone.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/01/28/news/caribou-chamber-restructuring-divides-roles/ printed on December 27, 2014