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Editorial: Uniting Harrisburg, West Shore chambers makes sense

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The decision last year by the York County Chamber of Commerce and the York County Economic Development Corp. to join forces as the York County Economic Alliance is proving to be a good one.

The midstate's second-largest chamber, its members enjoy increased buying power, access to more services, greater political clout and more networking reach. Its efforts help not only individual members grow stronger, they boost the region's economy.

And isn't that what a business organization should be about?

Midstate businesspeople support almost two dozen separate chamber organizations — in addition to numerous downtown groups intended to strengthen business communities, whether they be on Main Street, in suburban commercial centers or organized around a common interest in addition to commerce.

But times are tough for the traditional chamber. Faced with changing member expectations and alternative ways of connecting, chambers are no less immune to the effects of the Great Recession than the members they serve.

Hot topics coast to coast this year at meetings of chamber "professionals" included member recruitment and retention and whether the chamber business "model" needs to change — all of it boiling down to ensuring that organizations deliver maximum value for the membership dollar.

In some areas, small chambers make sense. But opportunities for greater cooperation — or even blended efforts such as those in York — exist.

Case in point is the West Shore Chamber of Commerce. We always have maintained the West Shore and Harrisburg Regional chambers would be a perfect fit. Both organizations represent major industries as well as small businesses. Their members are often only minutes apart. Both would see their legislative influence increase and, most important, a single administrative staff would stretch member dues farther while enabling greater member opportunities on both sides of the river.

The two chambers looked at joining forces several years ago, only to see West Shore pull back. But for the second time in three years, the West Shore chamber is without a director; the search committee let it be known a new president and CEO would be announced on its Business and Industry Night earlier this month and then decided it wasn't ready.

The membership should seize this as an opportunity to reconsider that earlier decision and reopen the dialogue. The Harrisburg chamber already draws nearly a quarter of its membership from Cumberland County — joining forces makes sense, more so today than it did before.

Just ask the York County Economic Alliance, now enjoying the greater strength that stems from unity.

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