FREEPORT — The Freeport Economic Development Corp. has voted to remain an independent organization and not merge with the new Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce.
The FEDC board voted unanimously Dec. 1 to move forward as a separate entity, but will continue for now to share resources and staff with the chamber. Its goal is to eventually separate completely from the chamber and continue to focus on economic development projects for all Freeport businesses.
FEDC Executive Director Sande Updegraph said the organization will become a member of the chamber, and will request a seat on the chamber board. In exchange, FEDC will offer a chamber representative a seat on the FEDC board.
Updegraph said over the past few years there have been changes to the structure of the chamber. At one point, she said, the Freeport Merchants Association and FEDC were to be separate models under the umbrella of the the chamber. Then, FMA decided to focus on tourism marketing and removed itself from the chamber model.
“At that point, it was unclear to what extent the chamber and FEDC would work,” she said. “We didn’t know if one would absorb the other, or what the structure would look like.”
Now, Updegraph said, FEDC and the chamber will share resources until the chamber is stable enough to stand alone.
Wendy Caisse, president of FEDC, said while the group is supportive of the chamber, the board’s opinion is that it is not in the best interest of either organization to embed a non-membership group into a member-driven group.
“FEDC works for all businesses in Freeport, and the chamber works for its members,” Caisse said. “We fully support the chamber but will provide guidance from the sideline.”
Updegraph also said the missions of each organization were different, but equally important.
“The FEDC mission is to serve the entire town of Freeport and we will help to strengthen and diversify all businesses and the economic base,” she said. “Anybody that needs help can come to us for assistance. With a chamber, its goal is to help and support its members, not all businesses.”
She said the chamber will not be independent for about a year, so the town and FEDC will help financially.
Initially, the chamber will pull funds from three sources, Updegraph said. One is an appropriation of $20,000 from FEDC’s reserve account to help the chamber get started. This money will help to provide office supplies and pay for the membership coordinator.
The second financial source will come be tax increment financing funds from Destination Freeport starting Jan. 1, 2010. Updegraph said those funds are considered bridge financing until November 2010, when the Park Street/ Hilton Garden TIF will provide an annual allotment of $48,000.
The chamber’s third financial source will be membership dues and program fees. As of Monday, Dec. 7, Updegraph said there were 90 paid members.
“After those funds are used to get the chamber up and running, the financial support from the town and FEDC will go away, and the chamber will become self-sufficient,” she said. “The goal is to get the chamber and FEDC working as independent organizations, but cooperating at the same time.”
To join the chamber or for information, contact membership coordinator Wynne Levine at 789-9107.