The Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce recently joined together in an effort to create a more cost-efficient organization that serves businesses in the area struggling with the difficult economy.
The merger was officially announced on Dec. 18, but discussion of the partnership began about five months ago during the Community Success Program — a joint event the leaders of both chambers attended — according to Mark Ouimet, the immediate past chair of the newly combined chamber.
Ouimet said the “great deal of duplicate service” by both chambers served as an impetus for consolidating the respective branches.
Diane Keller, president and CEO of the new chamber, also attributed the merge to the need to streamline the chambers’ services.
“We’re going to have one new structure, which will be great for the membership,” Keller said.
Both organizations share the similar goals of advocating for and promoting local businesses. The Ann Arbor Chamber provides access to special services like health insurance and networking opportunities to its approximately 1,400 member organizations, according to annarborchamber.org. The Ypsilanti Chamber provides its 400 member organizations with similar services.
Ouimet said the current economic climate was a key factor in the decision to consolidate the branches and offer their members better services.
“Member organizations are challenged now more than ever,” he said.
In addition to promoting business growth, a joint chamber of commerce will also advocate for social and economic policies that are pertinent to both the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti communities, according to the two chambers’ websites.
According to Ouimet, the recent merger gives the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area “more clout” when dealing with the state government and local universities.
Keller said that while the merger is the right move, there are logistical issues that the consolidation process might present. The location of a headquarters is still yet to be determined, as is a unified set of bylaws, Keller said.
Keller said cost was a factor in the consolidation of the two chambers, but added that she doesn’t anticipate losing any chamber employees.
Some leaders of member organizations like the Michigan Theater are hopeful this union will spark the local economy and help local businesses.
Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, said he thinks the merger is a logical step.
“Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are the leading communities in Washtenaw County and they share a lot of similar dynamics, and it makes a lot of sense to me,” Collins said.
Collins said he thinks the newly combined chambers will work to bring fresh business opportunities to the area.
“I think one of the key things that a chamber of commerce can do is promote the business vitality of a region and … attract and retain businesses to the area,” he said.
Because Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti each have unique characteristics, Collins said having businesses in both areas work together will benefit the collective communities. He added that Ypsilanti is a “more up-and-coming” city — much like the Ann Arbor of the 1970s — and Ann Arbor now has a “worldwide kind of brand reputation,” which will allow the two cities to complement each other in terms of businesses.
“I just think that it’s a really good dynamic fusion of two really interesting places,” Collins said.