Following overwhelmingly positive response from the memberships from both organizations, the Chamber and Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau will be consolidating operations in order to increase the value of membership and improve service to the communities in the two counties. Scheduled to take effect October 1, the two organizations will operate under the umbrella of a new non-profit organization, called the Columbia-Montour Partnership for Community Development.
The new structure is not a merger of the two organizations. The Chamber and Visitors Bureau will continue to exist, with separate boards to maintain focus on strategic priorities. While the Visitors Bureau’s focus will remain on promoting the two county region and tourism-related economic development, the Chamber will continue to serve as an advocate for all employers and provide programs and services to encourage job growth. Members of either organization will automatically become members of both with access to all benefits. Combined, the Chamber and Visitors Bureau represent almost 600 area employers.
Staffs and operational resources will be combined under the Partnership to eliminate duplication of effort and improve efficiency in delivering programs and services. Office locations will remain in Berwick, Bloomsburg and Danville, though the main offices of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau will be consolidated. No defined timeline has been established, as possible facilities are currently being evaluated.
The boards of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau will provide strategic input to the Board of the Partnership. The chief paid executives of the two organizations will serve in parallel roles within the Partnership. Chamber President Fred Gaffney will serve as Chief Executive Officer, overseeing Chamber initiatives and representing the Partnership in regional initiatives. David “Otto” Kurecian, Executive Director of the Visitors Bureau, will serve as Chief Operating Officer, responsible for day to day operations as well as management of tourism enhancement efforts.
With the same general goal of strengthening the regional economy, the Chamber and Visitors Bureau hope the Partnership will be attractive to other organizations with similar goals. The Partnership is offering operational support, including office space, to other non-profit groups. The Chamber’s subsidiaries, Downtown Bloomsburg Inc., and the Foundation of the Columbia Montour Chamber, also become part of the Partnership structure upon its creation.
“The Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1941 when smart businesspeople realized that they could be more effective at strengthening the community if they worked together,” according to Richard Kwei, Chamber Board Chair. “This partnership is a continuation of that realization and we hope that we can be even more effective in strengthening Columbia and Montour counties by working with other groups.”
A task force has been working with staff and sub-committees since January to formalize the operational details of the Partnership. Final ballots were sent to all members in late July with a deadline of August 11th. Members of the Chamber were also invited to vote in person at a special meeting held yesterday morning. The results of both votes were overwhelmingly in support of the partnership.
The process was facilitated by Heather Feldhaus, Ph.D., with Bloomsburg University’s Center for Community Research and Consulting, and Chuck Laudermilch, a retired Bloomsburg University professor. “The CMVB Board of Directors is grateful to the staff of both the CMVB and the Chamber for their diligence and focus on the needs of our members as both organizations strive to deliver the best possible services to Montour and Columbia Counties,” said Bob Stoudt, Visitors Bureau Board President. “I am very optimistic that the Partnership will be a great asset for our community.”