EDC, chamber merger decision looms

The city’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp. are nearing a decision about whether to merge, but no one’s saying what that decision might be.

A committee of about eight members from boards both the organizations has met three times in that last month and plans to make a recommendation about what to do as early as the end of June.

Then, the full boards of both organizations will vote about becoming a single entity.

“We’re discussing if the time is right, if it’s the right thing to do,” said Bill Hodgkins, chairman of the chamber and an ex-officio member of the EDC. “We don’t yet know what that recommendation might be. The discussions are ongoing, and they’re good discussions.”

Hodgkins hopes a merger will occur.

Neither Hodgkins nor Doug Quimby, chairman of the EDC board, is willing to talk about which way the group is leaning.

The two groups have discussed merging in the past, but this time the impetus for talks came from the chamber’s recent trip to Oklahoma City.

During that trip, they met with members of the chamber of commerce, which also is responsible for economic development for the city.

“The Oklahoma City chamber was effective in advancing public policy, effective in promoting the area for economic development — and that’s because there was support for the entire business community,” Quimby said.

“They work on economic development in a broad sense, a single organization that worked for the overall good of the community.”

Oklahoma City’s chamber also houses the EDC and the city’s tourism division, he said.

“The group understands what needs to be done, and the resources that they need to bring to bear,” he said. “It was very effective — it worked for a lot of reasons. And that’s logical that one organization would be more effective bringing together business issues than separate ones.”

Hodgkins believes the time is right for the discussions. And so does Chamber CEO Dave Csintyan.

“Just the fact that we’re going down this road with the level of sophistication and energy means that there is a great appetite to optimize the model of economic development — no matter what model we choose,” he said.

Csintyan is not involved in the discussions, but said he welcomes the dialogue.

“I am very, very pleased that we’re going through this discovery process, doing the due diligence,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll come up with a model that will increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations. I applaud this effort.”

Csintyan said that every chamber of commerce is different — and to be successful, every chamber must reflect the desires of the business community.

“There’s no perfect prescription for a model that works,” he said. “We have to decide what works for Colorado Springs. While I have no sense of where the talks are going, I do think a lot of people are putting a lot of time and energy into this.”

However, Csintyan wouldn’t say whether he supports a merger.

“We’ve worked hard to get a strong mayor and city council,” he said. “And now it’s time to make sure we have a strong business community and economic development effort — no matter what form that takes.”

Other communities seem to be moving toward the same conclusion: merging might make better business sense in the cut-throat world of economic development.

Manitou Springs has just completed a merger of its chamber, EDC and tourism board.

Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce in Aberdeen, Wash., is doing the same thing. Other cities are merging their chambers to create a single economic development force.

It’s happening on the Alabama Gulf Coast, in Arkansas and in West Chicago and Warrenville. In Jefferson County, Wash., two chambers are merging with the county’s economic development office.

“The action of our organizations will allow us to move together with the vision of an enhanced economic future for the county,” said Rick Cooper, chairman of the board for the economic development council in a press release announcing the decision.

Originally, the Colorado Springs EDC was a division of the chamber from its founding in 1971 until it became a separate nonprofit organization in 1991. The split, Quimby said, was the decision of some of the business people in the community.

“They were contributing a lot of money into the organization for economic development,” he said. “And they felt the chamber’s mission was too heavily weighted toward member services, and the assets weren’t being used for economic development. What it boils down to is that they wanted an economic development focus, not a bureaucratic focus.”

The split allowed the EDC to accept money from city and county government and Colorado Springs Utilities. Earlier, a similar split moved the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau from the chamber.