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Allegheny Valley, StrongLand, Armstrong chambers see power in alliance

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Though many essential details, such as personnel, still need to be hammered out now that the merger of three Alle-Kiski Valley chambers of commerce has received the green light, chamber officials' and members' expectations are high.

“It's going to put resources together so that we can do much more,” said Stacie Zilka, office manager at Zilka and Associates, a Cheswick architectural firm that is a member of the Allegheny Valley Chamber. “We're all doing the same projects, and we're all trying to achieve the same goals.

“A regional chamber will make it much easier and much quicker to achieve those goals.”

The Armstrong, StrongLand and Allegheny Valley chambers of commerce jointly announced their merger Tuesday. The regional chamber is expected to be in operation by early next year.

Tentatively called the Allegheny Kiski Regional Chamber of Commerce, it would include about 770 businesses in northeast Allegheny County, northern Westmoreland County and all of Armstrong County.

Chamber officials believe joining forces will create a stronger advocate for local businesses.

The right time

“Now is the right time to do it,” said Chad McCutcheon, of McCutcheon Enterprises in Allegheny Township, who is a regional board member and spokesman. “None of the chambers are foundering, (but) we saw a steady trend to where, in the next three to five years, that one of these chambers, or all of them, wouldn't be bringing in enough to even maintain.”

The StrongLand Chamber appears to be the strongest financially, based on 2011 data from the Internal Revenue Service. StrongLand ended that year with about $113,000, compared to Allegheny Valley's $6,000 and Armstrong's $2,000.

Each chamber has about the same number of member businesses, which pay dues.

The consolidation also will allow the chambers to eliminate redundancies and cut costs, officials said.

StrongLand President Charmin Worthington said, by joining forces, each chamber can lend its strengths to the others.

“We're all going into it as equals, and I strongly believe in that,” she said. “Our focus isn't going to be a bigger StrongLand Chamber of Commerce. We don't want to put one chamber ahead of the other.”

Chamber leaders envision a central headquarters, in a yet-to-be-determined location, and possibly two satellite locations in the chamber's 70-municipality footprint, said Allegheny Valley Chamber President Mary Bowlin.

Staff needs and other decisions will be up to a 14-member regional board, comprised of representatives from each chamber.

The right move

Mary McKinney, director of Duquesne University's Small Business Development Center, said she thinks a regional chamber could be a good move from a business point of view.

“I think any time that businesses can expand their network it's wonderful for business,” she said. “Business is done through relationships, and networking is a very important function for chambers. I wouldn't think anything would be lost by having a regional chamber.”

Birdsfoot Golf Club Manager Travis Lindsay said he has met a number of chamber staffers at events held at his South Buffalo golf course.

“They have really good people, and I don't know how that consolidation is going to affect that,” he said. “Hopefully, they can all continue along. They're just solid groups of people.”

Overall, Lindsay said being a chamber member has benefited the golf club.

Chamber officials said they are “redefining and refocusing” to provide better member benefits.

All the chamber directors said the regional approach will create more networking opportunities — the main perk of being a chamber member.

“This will give opportunities to meet people they would never have crossed paths with,” Bowlin said. “We would have the ability, because we serve so many communities, to organize events that would focus on one sector of membership across the whole region.”

The chambers also promote members on their websites and social media. They also produce a newsletter that features legislative and business industry updates.

Officials believe merging will enable the chamber to serve as a more influential advocate when meeting with local, state and federal leaders.

“If you have 700 businesses with a concern, I think somebody needs to listen,” said Lynda Pozzuto, executive director of the Armstrong County Chamber of Commerce.

Currently, each chamber has a legislative committee that meets with local government leaders.

The StrongLand Chamber meets with the Armstrong and Westmoreland commissioners yearly and schedules other meetings if there is a specific concern, Worthington said.

“We're really involved in our communities and with our businesses, and we voice our opinion to (the commissioners),” she said.

She added that community events like the StrongLand HomeXpo at the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer likely will include more businesses.

“We aren't looking to take away any of the special events that we do but, rather, expand them,” she said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702

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