EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 15, 2008

Focus: Chambers put value on serving their members

HAVERHILL — Local chambers of commerce used to be places where people networked and socialized — a good ol' boys club of sorts.

But today they focus more on tangible things that can really help businesses, like worker training and getting grant money.

At the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce in Lawrence, 1,400 business members are served in a variety of ways. Through its interactive Web site, members can place free business space listings and job advertisements, can offer free discount coupons and can post community events.

President Joseph Bevilacqua sees his chamber as an economic development resource center for the Merrimack Valley, offering more than 100 programs a year including a Hispanic Job Fair each March and two business expo trade shows.

"They allow local businesses to promote their products and services," Bevilacqua said. "We also host two networking mixers each month where companies can promote their products and services."

Chamber members are put in touch with local, state or federal agencies that provide assistance in work force training, permitting, financing, state or federal tax incentives, exporting, demographics, building or land search, and more.

The Merrimack Valley Means Business program brings mayors, town managers and economic development officers together to help attract and keep businesses in the region.

"One example of this program is Adamson Industries, which relocated from Lawrence to Haverhill," Bevilacqua said. "We worked with the owners and with Haverhill officials to keep Adamson in our area."

Jamie Santo, chairman of the Greater Salem (N.H.) Chamber of Commerce, said the focus these days is on economic development. Over the last year or so the Greater Salem Chamber has been reaching out and expanding to serve businesses in neighboring communities, including Windham, Pelham, Hampstead and Atkinson. It currently serves 325 members.

"The core of every decision we make is how we can bring value to our membership," Santos said.

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