By JAIME STUDD
For the Express
NORTHVILLE — More than a dozen members of the Fulton and Montgomery county chambers of commerce gathered at NBT Bank in Northville last Wednesday for the fourth, and final “Eggs and Issues” event.
The series of meetings, held at various locations throughout the month of February, was a collaborative effort by both chambers to gauge public sentiment about the possibility of a merger between the two.
“It’s been mostly positive,” said Mark Finkle, a former Fulton County chamber board chairman a member of the joint Affiliation Task Force. “As far as our boards are concerned, we haven’t found any stumbling blocks at this point.”
The task force was formed in January after the boards of both county chambers decided to explore the possibility of a merger.
Both chambers are currently operating under the direction of interim presidents, a unique situation that made it an opportune time to consider the reconfiguration.
In Fulton County, Terri Swierzowski, director of tourism and marketing, assumed the temporary leadership role when that group’s longtime president, Wally Hart, tendered his resignation last November.
The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has been under the leadership interim President Peter Capobianco, since the chamber and Deb Auspelmyer parted ways last summer.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Finkle said some of the questions regarding the proposed merger have been ironed out, including that of office locations.
Both chambers will each keep their own respective offices, said Finkle.
“I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to maintain a presence in both counties,” he said.
Other issues are still being discussed, including the exact configuration of a merged board, staffing issues and the membership opportunities of a merged chamber. A combined membership would total more than 1,500 businesses.
“I think we end up being able to offer more services to our members,” said Finkle.
Those in attendance at the breakfast said feedback from the community has, so far, been favorable, with phrases like “It’s about time,” being the most common.
“I think communities that are thinking regionally are the ones that are growing and being successful,” said Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger. “I think it shows some real leadership.”
For Thomas McGroder, of Thomas J. Real Estate, the move will actually result in considerable savings, and he believes that will be the case for a number of his fellow members.
“I don’t have to join both chambers. I can pay one due and still get more for my money,” said McGroder.
“I get the best of both worlds,” he later added.
“We can bring continuity to your bottom line,” agreed Brennan Parker, chairman of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors.
Some feared that smaller businesses may be leery of a merged chamber, fearing that a larger membership would mean less attention paid to the little guy.
“We’re growing our staff to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Parker.
The membership of both chambers must vote in favor of the merger for it to take place, and they must do so by a super majority.
Finkle said they are not yet sure whether the votes will take place by proxy or by convening special meetings of each chamber.
He speculated that the boards may be ready to call for a vote sometime in April, but said an official timeline for the vote, or the merger, has yet to be set.
“You got one shot. You got out to vote one time and that’s it,” said Finkle. “It’s more important to get the structure right than to be tied to a date.”