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Small firms key to Indy Chamber membership drop

Indy Chamber sees membership decline as small companies hit by recession stay away
Posted on July 20, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on July 20, 2014 at 10:13 a.m.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The recession’s impact on small businesses and side effects of the federal health care overhaul are cutting into a key Indianapolis business group’s membership.

The Indianapolis Business Journal reports (http://bit.ly/Wfk9EZ ) the Indy Chamber has lost 19 percent of its members since the start of 2011 and expects the decline to continue.

But leaders of the group say they have a plan to manage the decline by targeting key members who will buy in at higher rates in exchange for access to more exclusive events.

“We’re not in panic mode by any stretch of the imagination,” said Chief Operating Officer Melissa Cotterill. “It’s one of the reasons we’re working so hard to make sure what we are offering right now is a value and a benefit to our members.”

Nationally, chambers of commerce are seeing their memberships recover after taking a hit during the recession, according to Mick Fleming, president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. But the Indy Chamber ended 2013 with 2,459 members, down from 3,037 in early 2011.

Cotterill said the numbers reflect the hit that very small companies took during the recession. The chamber’s largest membership category is companies with 50 or fewer employees — including many with fewer than 25 workers.

Many of those firms were hit hard by the recession and haven’t returned, Cotterill said.

The chamber also lost a key marketing tool for those companies under the federal health care overhaul, which eliminated the chamber’s ability to offer health insurance discounts for small firms.

Cotterill said the chamber could lose more members at the end of this year, when small firms won’t be able to renew their ChamberCare plans with a 5 percent discount.

Despite the eroding membership base, the chamber’s revenue is holding steady, according to the group’s annual report.

The chamber took in $3.6 million from dues last year, down about 3 percent from the previous year. A 2012 merger with Develop Indy reduced overhead and led to $9.7 million in revenue. The chamber ended in the black by nearly $700,000.

Cotterill said the chamber doesn’t plan to change its dues structure anytime soon. Dues range from $479 to $50,000 for elite-level members.

Daniel Herndon, CEO of the marketing firm Redwall Live, donates $10,000 a year in services for his membership. That gains his firm access to invitation-only events that he otherwise couldn’t afford.

“We have deep business relationships with several chamber members just because we are in the same room together for roundtable discussions, for VIP dinner events,” Herndon said.

Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, http://www.ibj.com


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