Sometimes unprecedented times can give organizations the push they need to reinvent themselves.
On Friday, after years of flirting with the concept and looking to take COVID-19 head on, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce announced a merger, creating a singular entity representing the bulk of the South Coast.
Kristen Miller, the president and CEO of the Goleta Chamber, told the News-Press that it is a dream come true.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of work, and it’s personally a culmination of a dream,” said Ms. Miller, who will run the merged organizations.
“The more I worked with the Goleta board, the more we all realized the regional nature of the work that we are doing. Boundaries exist only in government, not in business. The more that we push public policy, we needed to be collective in our marketing efforts. When it comes to all issues — housing, transportation, whatever — we needed to be working far more closely together than we have ever had before.”
Ms. Miller was particularly pleased that when she broke the news to people in the community, no one seemed to be surprised.
“They’d tell me, ‘that seems right,’ and that tells me all I need to know, we will have the support of the community,” Ms. Miller said.
Financially, the chambers come into this merger in different situations, with Goleta having already collected dues from its members prior to the coronavirus pandemic, with a bit of cash stashed away in its reserves.
Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara chamber is more reliant upon monthly dues, something that subsides in the heart of an economic crisis.
“This is starting to remind me of the Recession,” Ms. Miller said. “When people don’t pay their chamber dues, it’s not because they don’t like us anymore, it’s that they have to pay their people first and everything else comes second.”
The organizational chart is already set, an item ironed out prior to the merger announcement.
Ms. Miller says that allows the chamber to focus on marrying databases, communicating with members and aiding the small businesses from Goleta to Carpinteria.
“We are going to be a larger and stronger organization,” Ms. Miller said. “We will expand our membership base, because some businesses might have had to choose between the two of us before. It’s an easier decision to just choose one and be a part of a bigger group.
“And then communication is the next thing, we can get together on our email lists, get out our press releases and figure out our speaking engagements. Instead of having overlap on our messaging anyways, we are one united front with a clear message.”
Members and staff on both sides of the merger pointed to the need for innovation in the time of economic crisis.
“After celebrating 142 years of serving our community, we recognize that these times call for innovation. Our goal is to increase value for our members, create a unified voice for business, enhance connections for our members and promote the interests of all companies in our region,” said Stephanie Armstrong, Interim Executive Director of the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region.
Others pointed to utilizing both cities’ uniqueness to form a more dynamic brand.
“Although our two cities have distinct histories and identities that we are eager to preserve and celebrate, our economies are inextricably linked and our business community is stronger together,” said Geoff Green, current Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Barbara Region.
“Combining our two organizations and our memberships ensures that our region’s business community will be in the strongest possible position as we work toward economic recovery from the pandemic.”
Members of the business community are equally excited to watch the merger aid in the Chamber’s efforts in impacting local government.
“Regional businesses like ours are eager to see a more focused regional effort for government relations and economic development in our area,” said Kirsten McLaughlin, Market Vice President of Cox and Goleta Chamber of Commerce Board Member.
“This is an exciting development for our community.”