The St. Charles and St. Peters Chambers of Commerce on Tuesday announced plans to combine to create the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce.
The merged organization is expected to have 900 members and would retain a focus on serving the St. Charles and St. Peters communities.
"We believe that together we can build a stronger and more diverse chamber that will serve our members," said Cliff Heitmann, Board Chair of the St. Peters Chamber.
It's possible that the six other chambers of commerce in St. Charles County might seek to join the Greater St. Charles County Chamber, said Aleece Vogt, board chair for St. Charles Chamber. However, the boards have not yet been approached by anyone, she said.
Decline in membership over the past several years was a major driving force for the merger, said Heitmann.
The St. Charles Chamber has about 570 members, down from a high of around 800 in 2002 when they had a major membership push.
"Most of those members didn't renew," said St. Charles Chamber President Scott Tate, who will stay on as President for the Greater St. Charles County Chamber. "We've been around 640 in 2009, that's when a lot of Chambers saw the bottom fall out in terms of the economy and people renewing."
Membership in the St. Peters Chamber has remained around 500. About 100 companies are members of both chambers.
The resignation of former St. Peters Chamber President Ed Weeks in September prompted members of the St. Charles Chamber to reach out to St. Peters Chamber to discuss combining.
This has been something the chambers have discussed for eight years, said Vogt. It provides members with a larger network of businesses.
"This strengthens our political clout as we advocate for businesses," Vogt said.
The combined chamber will operate out of the with staff from both St. Charles and St. Peters chambers. The St. Peters Chamber has a lease that will run through September 2012. It's still unclear when St. Peters staff would move to the St. Charles office.
Although both chamber boards approved the combination, the general membership would have to approve the change as well.
"There will be a vote of both memberships," Tate said. "We've done a lot of homework to get to this point."
Legally, there are issues that still have to be worked out. The boards will still have to decide how the boards and various committees will be comined.
"The intention there is to take the strength of both chambers," Vogt said. "We believe by combining we'll have some strong and active committees."
The dues structure is expected to remain basically the same and will not increase for either group.
The boards will have to decide how to reimburse or offer a rebate to businesses who have recently joined both the St. Charles and St. Peters Chambers.
The Chamber is hoping to have the first combined general membership meeting in January.
David Leezer, St. Charles Director of Economic Development, said the combination makes sense.
"St. Charles and St. Peters are divided by a border, not by a vision," he said.