Portland chamber loses two of its largest corporate members

Posted Aug. 16, 2012, at 7:20 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 17, 2012, at 10:44 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine —The Portland Regional Chamber has lost two of its largest dues-paying members, contributing to a steady decline in dues revenue the business organization has experienced over the last two years.

Unum, which employs 3,000 people in the Portland area, and Hannaford, which employs several thousand in the region and is headquartered in Scarborough, both have declined to renew their membership in the regional business organization, according to spokespeople for the companies.

Both corporate spokespeople told the Bangor Daily News their respective company’s decision to leave the Chamber was in no way a reflection of the Chamber’s performance, but rather the result of reviewing their overall needs and corporate objectives.

Hannaford, as a statewide grocery chain, is not typically a member of local chambers, and decided to focus on its statewide presence by retaining its membership in the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said Eric Blom, a Hannaford spokesman. “We found value with the [regional] Chamber, but … we’re always looking for ways to get our costs down.”

Unum, which is headquartered in Tennessee, told the Portland Regional Chamber earlier this summer that it would not renew its membership. The decision was made after the company reviewed its memberships in various chambers of commerce and trade associations, according to Mary-Clarke Guenther, a company spokeswoman. “We concluded that our membership in multiple chambers of commerce was unnecessary,” she said. Unum will retain its membership in the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

The Portland Regional Chamber consists of five community chambers in Scarborough, Westbrook/Gorham, Portland, South Portland/Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth/Cumberland. It has 1,400 member companies representing more than 64,000 employees, according to its website. Dues are paid to the regional chamber, which then allocates a portion of those dues to the community chambers.

The departure of Hannaford and Unum as members is not part of a worrying trend, said W. Godfrey Wood, the Chamber’s CEO. Wood says he’s disappointed in the companies’ decisions to leave the Chamber, and that it will spur the organization to take a closer look at how effective it is at demonstrating value to its members, he said. “I think we’re always looking at that,” he said. “But this probably brings it into sharper focus. Absolutely.”

Neither Wood nor the companies would disclose the exact amount in dues the companies paid, though Wood said the maximum dues for any member is $10,000. “So they were both under that,” he said.

“The loss of revenue always hurts,” Wood said. Though he’s confident that in this case it won’t hamper the Chamber’s operations going into the next fiscal year. The budget he submitted for the new fiscal year was “conservative,” he said. “I’m comfortable we’ll be able to hit our dues numbers.”

More than 50 percent of the Chamber’s revenue comes from its membership dues, which annually total more than $600,000, according to the Chamber’s IRS filings over the last several years.

While the loss of dues from Hannaford and Unum is likely a small percentage of the total dues the Chamber collects, it does fit into a downward trend in the amount of membership dues the Chamber has collected over the last few years.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, the Portland Regional Chamber collected $615,339 from membership dues, according to its IRS filing. That is a 7.2 percent decrease from the $663,415 in dues it collected during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009. “No question we suffered with the economy,” Wood said.

Art Dillon, president of the Scarborough Community Chamber’s board of directors, is sorry to see Hannaford leave the Chamber. He learned of the company’s decision just last week. “It wasn’t anything we did or didn’t do,” he said, “which was nice to hear, but it’s still sad to not have them as part of the Chamber.”

Dillon said the loss of Hannaford won’t affect the community chamber’s financial situation as it only receives a small fraction of the total dues the regional Chamber collects. “I would imagine [the main office] would deal accordingly if a belt has to be tightened or a project has to be shelved,” Dillon said.

He also wouldn’t be surprised if the news generated some conversations at the regional board level about how to better communicate the benefits of Chamber membership. “Who knows, maybe dues restructuring will be part of it,” he said.

In the meantime, he plans to lobby Hannaford to rejoin. “They’re such an integral part of our community,” he said. “They’ve been there a long time and are such a giving organization. … I’m going to be trying to recruit them any chance I get to come back.”

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