Chamber & Visitors Bureau Moving Forward to Form Partnership

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce and Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau are moving forward with plans to combine the operations of the two organizations in order to increase the value of membership and improve service to the communities in the two counties.

While the Chamber and Visitors Bureau will continue to exist, a new organization will be created. The staffs, operational resources and memberships will be combined within this new organization. The partnership will represent approximately 600 area businesses and organizations with the hope of attracting additional members as well as other partner organizations with similar missions.

The two organizations have been examining ways to work together more effectively since February, 2011. An early outcome 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.

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 partnership through a series of focus groups and surveys. “Our members made it very clear that they value the missions and individual brands of the Visitors Bureau and Chamber,” said David “Otto” Kurecian, Executive Director of the Visitors Bureau. “This partnership structure will ensure that our missions are not lost or diluted, while enhancing value to members and allowing us to more effectively serve the region.” The Visitors Bureau will retain control of the room tax revenue for the purposes of tourism enhancement while both boards will continue to meet to identify and oversee strategic priorities.

The partnership will maintain office locations in Berwick, Bloomsburg and Danville, with the possibility of adding customer service locations. The two main offices of the organizations will be consolidated into one facility to be identified. This new location will allow for operational efficiencies and provide space for future growth.

The formal proposal was unveiled to members in the Fall of 2013 with a series of Town Hall meetings held followed by a poll of both memberships to gather member feedback. The positive response to the poll exceeded 93 percent, according to Fred Gaffney, Chamber President. After reviewing the poll results, the boards of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau voted in January to move the process forward. A task force will be working with staff and sub-committees to formalize the operational details of the partnership with the hope that the final plan will be approved by members in mid-2014.

This process has been facilitated by Heather Feldhaus, Ph.D., with Bloomsburg University’s Center for Community Research and Consulting, and Chuck Laudermilch, retired Bloomsburg University professor.

“We have been following a very deliberate process to engage members and ensure that a partnership will meet our intended goals,” said Gaffney. “We thank all who have participated in this process thus far, and while we still have many details to work out over the coming months, it is very exciting that we are in the final stages of making the partnership a reality.”

The Task Force that has been working on this proposal is seeking the expertise of members to work on specific areas the partnership. Volunteer engagement is critical to finalizing the plan in a timely manner. Individuals are needed to help research and recommend a consolidated office location. Those with human resource experience are being asked to assist with combining the two staffs. And member input is being sought on how to best combine and execute the many programs, events and other benefits offered by the two organizations. Members interested in lending their skills to this process over the next few months should contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber at 570-784-2522 or fgaffney@columbiamontourchamber.com, or Otto Kurecian at the Visitors Bureau at 570-784-8279 or kurecian@cmvb.com.