n-fptchamber-011509 Chamber discussion sparks questions, concerns

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FREEPORT — Out of an estimated 540 businesses in town, about 70 business owners gathered at the Harraseeket Inn Monday night to hear about the creation of a Freeport Chamber of Commerce.
As presented by the Chamber Stakeholders Committee, the Freeport Chamber Alliance would be a marriage of the Freeport Merchants Association and the Freeport Economic Development Corp.
The Chamber Alliance goals would include increased destination marketing, support services for area businesses and creation of a mechanism to connect local businesses.
While the benefits of a chamber would attract new business and add exposure for existing businesses, Town Manager Dale Olmstead said there are several hurdles before the Chamber Alliance can be formed.
The FMA directors must vote to continue discussions about joining the
Chamber Alliance on Jan. 21. Then, the Town Council must allocate a potential $197,500 to the Chamber Alliance, including $100,000 from existing tax increment financing. Then, at least 300 businesses must join the new organization.
“Whether a chamber is formed or not is up to the Freeport businesses,” Olmstead said.
He said if FMA votes against the idea, the Chamber Committee could move ahead with a revised
proposal without the marketing plans.
For an estimated cost of $325, business owners could join the Chamber Alliance and receive business support services such as cooperative purchasing of health and dental insurance, heating oil, office supplies and group workers’ compensation rates. Members will be included in a business directory and have access to after-hours networking groups.
For additional money, businesses could participate in optional marketing programs. Those options include a presence on the visitor’s guide map and in the Main Street Information Center. Also included is trade show representation, bus and cruise ship marketing, a position in the future train station and additional print, Web site and public relations services.
The cost of the additional marketing piece as presented by the Chamber Committee would be $165 to $3,430, depending on a business’s annual income.
While Sande Updegraph, executive director of FEDC and a member of the Chamber Committee, said the fee structure is “nowhere near to being complete,” she said the committee talked to almost every chamber in Maine and found the $325 fee to be reasonable.
“We didn’t factor in nonprofit organizations, sole proprietors, or retired owners,” she said. “We based our ideas on the sliding scale of annual fees, much like the merchants association.”
Myra Hopkins, executive director of the merchants association and a member of the Chamber Committee, said another possible fee structure could include an a la carte menu of services provided by the Chamber Alliance.
“FMA will continue to think about changes to the structure and ensure membership to the community,” she said. “We want the best structure to help all members … to ensure the dues and opportunities offered answer your business needs.”
Some business owners said due to the cost of FMA dues, they would no longer participate in their services, but would, if the price was right, participate in a chamber.
Jim Roberts, owner of the Royalsborough Inn in Durham, said the Freeport Chamber dues would allow him to return to the Freeport area, since he could no longer afford FMA dues.
Roberts said as a member of the Androscoggin and Midcoast chambers, he appreciates the educational and networking opportunities provided.
“A chamber is not just marketing, it’s networking” he said. “Being a member of the community is sometimes more important.”

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