Local chambers seek ways to increase membership

Economy has weakened the memberships of area chambers, except Rocklin
By: Megan Wood, Gold Country News Service
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It’s no surprise that when business is slow, everyone feels it. For many local area Chamber of Commerce organizations, the slow economy has brought a decline in membership due to businesses closing or financial hardship. The Roseville, Lincoln and Auburn chambers have experienced decreases in membership since 2008. “We added more than 80 new members last year, but we’re still down from where we were in 2008,” said Bob Romness, CEO of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. Roseville’s Chamber membership dropped from 1,800 in 2008 to around 1,500 in 2009 and Roseville Chamber CEO Wendy Gerig said there has been decrease in attendance at Chamber events and fundraisers. This year’s SPLASH fundraiser, one of Roseville Chamber’s largest held each year in September, normally sells out the Roseville Aquatic Center with 1,200 tickets. This year ticket sales didn’t reach the 1,000 mark but the event still brought in a total of $50,000 that went to the Chamber and the city’s universally accessible playground program. With some chambers, the down economy has been cause for reinvention and change. Last year the Auburn Chamber Board of Directors opted to cancel the Black and White Ball, the Auburn Chamber’s annual fundraiser, after 2009’s ball brought low attendance, revenue and poor reviews. But new Auburn Chamber of Commerce President Bill Radakovitz has plans to overhaul the city’s Web site, including maintaining a blog, revamping Chamber programs and recruitment and strengthen partnerships with the city. At the Rocklin Chamber of Commerce, CEO Robin Trimble said listening to members’ opinions is what has helped the Rocklin Chamber’s metamorphosis in 2009. “We used to just have events and meetings in the morning and evening,” Trimble said. “But we discovered there were some members who wanted to network in the middle of the day. So we came up with the “Late Lunch,” which we started this past summer.” Trimble said she believes being so attentive to members’ needs is what has helped the Rocklin Chamber increase its membership by 14 people this past year, bringing the grand total to 653 members. “Chambers need to know their members and know what’s going on with their membership,” she said. “Service, gratitude and taking care of customers are important to a business and we are a business here at the Chamber.” In spite of the economic hardship, the Loomis and Colfax chambers have also seen an increase in membership and actually credit the recession as enhancing their strength. “I think people have been more aware of the networking opportunities that the chamber provides,” said Colfax Chamber of Commerce President Chris Wright who lists networking, marketing and advertising opportunities with a Colfax Chamber membership. Membership fees of $75 in 2009 included perks like advertising in the Colfax Record, discounted advertising in the Chamber newsletter and free job postings and a business Web spot on the Chamber Web site. Other local area chambers range in membership fees from $100 to $1,000 based on the size and type of business, but all offer networking, marketing and partnership opportunities with their communities. “A big pull for businesses is realizing that it’s being a part of your community,” White said. “It’s not just a chamber but a center for tourism. People learn what schools are around, where to eat or shop and that’s a plus for business.” And what’s good for businesses is good for the chamber. Gerig said the strength of the chamber relies on a few key components, one of which is the success of the business community and partnerships with the city. “I would add that we also motivate businesses to be hopeful,” said Loomis Chamber office manager Michelle Jansen. “Even if the economy isn’t working for the business owners, we try to encourage businesses with our programs and networking opportunities to be that voice of hope and encouragement.” Susan Belknap contributed to this article.