Freeport councilors urge business groups to collaborate

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FREEPORT — Three local commerce groups – Freeport Economic Development Corps., Freeport USA and the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce – are exploring ways to better communicate, collaborate and share a potential common space.

Representatives of all the groups met with town councilors Tuesday at the library to continue a discussion prompted by a Jan. 4 council workshop. At that workshop, each organization was asked to present its past year’s activities and successes.

Freeport USA focuses on driving traffic to Freeport through marketing and social media efforts. FEDC helps promote new businesses in Freeport. The chamber helps to connect local businesses.

The council directed the groups to identify duplicate services and find efficiencies.

Debora King, the chamber’s interim executive director, said she, Freeport USA Executive Director Myra Hopkins, and Sande Updegraph, executive director of FEDC, meet weekly to identify efficiencies. King said they have talked about website coordination, credit card processing and sharing office supplies.

But Councilor Jim Hendricks noted that sharing supplies between organizations housed in different buildings could be a challenge. He said if the three groups shared space in a town-owned building they could save rental costs, too.

Updegraph said the chamber is the only organization that pays rent, for its space at 15 Main St. FEDC is housed in Town Hall and does not pay rent; Freeport USA, housed at the hose tower on Depot Street, does not pay rent, but pays utilities and manages the information center and public restrooms.

The town has funded each agency in some way.

For about five years, Updegraph said, FEDC has received $85,000 from the town’s general fund to cover salaries and benefits. The town also pays $12,500 to Freeport USA to help maintain the bathrooms in the hose tower building. And in 2009, the town approved $48,000 from Destination Freeport Tax Increment Financing for the chamber to fund its initial start-up costs. This year, it allocated $18,000 from the Desert Road Phase I TIF account to provide funding for 2011.

While the council can approve funding for each organization, councilors made it clear they didn’t want to micro-manage the groups. Councilors said they want to find efficiencies and work toward a self-sustaining chamber organization.

Other suggestions generated at the workshop include using a shared phone system to easily transfer calls between the three groups; combining information for a single newsletter and hosting an all-Freeport after-hours social event instead of one for just chamber members.

Council Chairman Jim Cassida, who serves on both the FEDC and the chamber boards of directors, said he would like to see duplicate memberships between the chamber and Freeport USA.

He said a tiered membership would benefit those who want specific services from either organization. 

“It would be more cost effective,” he said.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net

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