John Toole led a toast after the meeting to honor the occasion.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — After living together for three years, the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce announced their engagement on Wednesday.
The two organizations will become one as of July 1 as part of the 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance, joining Berkshire Creative and the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. and cementing a relationship the organizations have been growing for a decade.
"The whole is greater than the sum of our individual parts. Our capacity is larger, our voice is louder, and our influence is stronger," Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jonathan Butler said.
The four organizations moved in together in 2013 when Berkshire Bank donated the Central Station on Allen Street to house them. That was just the second step in a three-phased plan to merge the four into one. The first step had been done to become affiliated organizations in 2010 and the final phase of becoming one organization will be effective on July 1.
According to Berkshire Visitors Bureau President and CEO Lauri Klefos, the concept was first proposed in 2007 with the Berkshire Blueprint. That plan called for the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce to merge with the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. as well as the creation of the Berkshire Creative Economy Council. In 2010, the plan was hatched to bring all of the organizations into one.
Berkshire Creative and Berkshire Economic Development Corp. merged into 1Berkshire and awaited the final two organizations.
"Berkshire Economic Development Corp. and Berkshire Creative Council have already merged into 1Berkshire so tonight we are here as members of the Chamber and of the BVB to do the same," Klefos said.
In a joint membership meeting at Berkshire Community College, the chairs of both boards called for and received a motion and a vote on the merger, followed by a champagne toast to commemorate the occasion.
"We can honestly say you are getting more bang for your buck," Butler said. "It has been critical to create a value proposition to both of our memberships as well as the larger region we serve."
The members of the individual groups will be merged with businesses being able to pick a track — either business or tourism — with a discounted rate for any one wanting both services. Both organizations will continue the services already provided but the larger impacts is the ability to unify efforts and, using the skills and expertise of each agency, grow and promote all the Berkshires have to offer.
"We can take the marketing expertise of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and instead of just talking to visitors we are talking to residents. We can talk to businesses. We can talk to people who might want to come here and start a business. We are building on that capacity," Butler said.
The Berkshire Visitors Bureau heads marketing campaigns for the entire county but mostly focused on bolstering the tourism economy. Now the two can combine and jointly market to prospective businesses or possible new residents. 1Berkshire recently launched a Berkshire Initiative for Growth to combat the declining population, a Berkshire Starts entrepreneur program which creates a network to help those with ideas state businesses, and joined forces with a "Life is Calling" branding campaign that promotes all aspects of the Berkshires.
"We can effectively champion the message of the whole Berkshire experience. It can lead the way to incredibly powerful, positive outcomes," former Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Peter Stasiowski said.
For Berkshire Visitors Bureau members, the market reach will grow to reach thousands of residents living here and potential visitors.
"Our single biggest success has been in the social media circle," Klefos said.
Together the group will have more influence over helping businesses receiving funding for cultural institutions, ushering in development projects, and draw more people to the county. Klefos said the merger will cause no layoff of the 16 staff members at 1Berkshire.
Chamber Board Chairwoman Linda Febles and BVB Board Chairwoman Eva Sheridan convened the meeting.
"Like everywhere, we have our challenges but today we have what many others do not. We have momentum," Stasiowski said. "With a unified voice in 1Berkshire there is no challenge that we cannot overcome."
Both Klefos and Butler outlined the histories of their organizations, both of which date back to the early 20th century.
The concept of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau was proposed in 1927.
"It was exactly this date 75 years ago, May 25, 1938, the state of Massachusetts passed an act incorporating Berkshire Hills Conference, as they are still known today, and authorized it to spend money to promote the county," Klefos said.
Since then, the organization has had 12 leaders and moved locations 11 times, the last from the Visitors Center in Adams to Central Station. Its budget has grown from $27,000 in 1938 to now $1.2 million.
"The job has always been to promote the beauty of the Berkshires. While our messages have changed over the years, our goal was always the same: bring people here, have them spend money in our hotels, our restaurants, experience our cultural and recreational attractions, shop in our stores and most importantly come back again and again," Klefos said.
The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce was established in 1911 as the Berkshire Association of Business and Commerce. In the 1960s, it merged with the Berkshire Development Corp. to become the Pittsfield Chamber of Commerce. It changed its name in the 1970s to the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and in the early 2000s it merged with the Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
"Throughout the last 15 years, the Berkshire Chamber has been an influential voice and a force in crafting of regional policy," Butler said.
The organization grew into taking more active roles with the burgeoning tourism and creative economy which was evolving and supported a number of downtown redevelopment projects and the expansion of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport.
Before the vote on Wednesday, Mick Callahan led off the meeting with thank-yous. Butler then took the stage and read a 1985 quote from Callahan: "I believe we can accomplish collectively what no business can do alone."
Thirty years since he uttered that quote, the concept remains and Wednesday's vote is a testament to that principle.
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