The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 18, 2013

Columbia-Montour Chamber and Visitors Bureau exploring partnership

The Daily Item

— BLOOMSBURG — The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce and Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau are exploring a formal partnership to increase the value of membership and improve service to the communities in the two counties.

With a common purpose of supporting sustainable growth in Columbia and Montour counties, a close operational partnership between the Chamber and Visitors Bureau presents a number of compelling benefits. The two organizations represent approximately 600 businesses and organizations ranging in size from Geisinger Health System, Bloomsburg University and Knoebels Amusement Resort to Old Forge Brewing Company, the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year, and the Montour Area Recreation Commission. When advocating for business interests, this membership provides considerable clout. It also provides greater critical mass when developing benefit programs, events and marketing opportunities for businesses. A partnership would provide all of the current benefits of each organization in a streamlined structure.

Through the proposed partnership, the staff and operational resources of the two organizations would be consolidated under an umbrella organization. The chamber and visitors bureau would continue to exist for community recognition and to allow the boards to maintain a focus on strategic priorities. Current members of the two organizations would become members of the partnership and have access to all benefits. The model would also provide an infrastructure for additional organizations to join in the partnership thus improving operational efficiencies and further strengthening regional planning efforts.

The chamber and visitors bureau are also recognized clearinghouses for information. Individuals looking to visit or relocate to the area would have resources consolidated. This would be advantageous in facilitating new business development in the area, providing quality of life, demographics, contact information and other regional resources within the same operation.

“When people come to an area and are looking for information, they look for the local visitors bureau or chamber of commerce,” says David “Otto” Kurecian, executive director of the visitors bureau. “Our members have reinforced that it is important to maintain our brands.” The partnership would maintain offices in the Berwick, Bloomsburg and Danville locations, with the possibility of additional locations to provide area information, he says.

The proposal was developed by a joint task force organized in February, 2011. Its goals are to build an organizational relationship to provide additional value to members while more effectively pursuing initiatives to promote and grow the region. An early outcome of the task force was the establishment of a Joint Governmental Affairs Committee (JGA); an advocacy-focused partnership. Via a model grassroots advocacy process the JGA seeks to influence decision-makers and prompt actions that contribute to the benefit of their collective membership and the communities they serve.  Events the JGA has sponsored include candidate forums and an annual breakfast with Congressman Lou Barletta and the Commonwealth’s revenue secretary.

Beginning in the fall of 2012, members of each organization as well as Commissioners from Columbia and Montour counties were asked for their input on a potential formal partnership through a series of focus groups and surveys. The task force then developed the partnership model for the respective memberships to consider. The Chamber and Visitors Bureau will be discussing the proposal with members this fall, and Gaffney and Kurecian hope to ask their respective members to vote to endorse it in early 2014.

“We are looking for a high level of support for the proposal, approximately 85%,” said Fred Gaffney, chamber president. “If our members agree, we would hope to have the operational details of the partnership finalized in mid-2014.”