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Berkshire Visitors Bureau And Chamber Of Commerce To Vote On Merger

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Members of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau are meeting to vote on the merger of the two organizations into the region’s lead economic development agency.The groups are taking the final step in a strategic alliance that has been talked about for roughly 6 years. 1Berkshire will serve as a one-stop shop for the region’s current and potential businesses, residents and visitors. Jonathan Butler is the Vice President and COO of 1Berkshire and has served as president of the chamber of commerce.

“The business community, the creative community, the visitor community, entrepreneurs and next generation leadership…those pieces are the backbone of who our organization is focused on in terms of our audience,” Butler said. “This whole idea of 1Berkshire has always been about economic development and marketing and creating alignment there so that there is more consistency in the message and better ability to actually develop the resources that are being promoted in and outside the region.”

The boards of the visitors bureau, chamber of commerce and 1Berkshire have unanimously approved the merger. Wednesday’s vote by the organizations’ members would align the governing of 1Berkshire under a larger board. With the earlier folding in of Berkshire Creative and adding on the visitor’s bureau, Butler says 1Berkshire now has about 1,500 dues-paying members. That number is closer to 2,000 if you count businesses and individuals the agency regularly interacts with. Although he says the more traditional chamber of commerce mission had evolved and was working well in the Berkshires, Butler says the region’s economy is different than most others.

“We’re very heavily concentrated in the arts, culture and the number of creative entrepreneurs that we have,” Butler said. “The creative economy is a vibrant piece of the economy. Even in the more traditional sense, our manufacturing…a high percentage of that is advanced manufacturing where they’re doing some very creative, unique cutting-edge types of things. So for the economic development organization that’s going to serve our business community it needs to match what the business community truly is. And in the Berkshires it’s a very diverse group. Those different pieces; the visitor economy, the creative community, the business community and entrepreneurs themselves all need to be at the table because that’s what our economy is made up of.”

Of the organizations, the Berkshire Visitors Bureau has the longest history. Eleven years after launching, it was chartered as a non-profit in 1938, according to President Lauri Klefos. Now Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of 1Berkshire, Klefos says the 650 visitor bureau members will now be able to reach people within the region, having historically marketed to New York City, Boston and surrounding areas.

“To tell residents in Great Barrington ‘Hey North Adams isn’t that far, go to this event,’” Klefos said. “Or the folks in Pittsfield to go down to Great Barrington and one of their festivals. So that’s another whole new audience that we’re excited about talking to. The small business owner may not have to be looking at five different ways to engage if they have an event going on. They have one place now they can go and we’ll be the portal to get it out to everyone.”

Klefos says by merging databases she has contact information for 7,000 Berkshire residents she never had before. With 500,000 annual unique visitors, the visitors bureau website will continue to operate as a sister site to 1Berkshire’s. With similar appearances, the websites include information pertaining to visitor experiences, business options and the essentials for someone looking to move to the area like housing, education and healthcare. As Klefos explains, one of the visible products of the merger was a branding campaign launched last year called “Life is Calling.”

“That ‘Life is Calling’ now can say ‘Move here, live here, have a wedding here, come to college here, start a business here as well as visit here,’” Klefos said. “It’s more subtle, but it allows us to do a lot more things.”

Butler says 1Berkshire will maintain a 16-person staff, by combining the organizations’ employees. All three groups already work together in the same building next to Pittsfield City Hall. Wednesday’s meeting starts at 5 o’clock at Berkshire Community College.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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