Or, as Jim Albert
puts it: "One louder voice."
That's how Albert, who is the president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Bristol Chamber of Commerce in Bristol, Connecticut, describes the collective impact of several chambers of commerce working together toward common goals.
This idea is embodied in the Central Connecticut Chambers
, which is a federation of seven chambers of commerce throughout the region.
The seven chambers, which represent the communities of Bloomfield, Bristol, Burlington, Farmington, Plainville, Plymouth/Terryville, and Wolcott, came together little by little, over the past couple of decades, to share.
added: "You can fill in the blank on 'share.'"
During times of economic recession, it is not uncommon for chambers of commerce to have a harder time maintaining their membership numbers and staying financially viable.
As a means of combating such challenges, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce
formed to allow participating chambers to support each other by sharing everything from events and staff, to economic development and political advocacy.
Which is one of the places where the "louder voice" component becomes especially relevant: by working with the Central Connecticut Chambers, Albert explained, "instead of having a chamber of commerce with, let's say, 150-200 members, you end up joining [an association] that has 1,500 members.
A voice of that size, he
added, tends to garner more attention from elected officials at the local, state, and even federal level.
Such is one of the benefits any organization stands to gain by expanding its representation to encompass a larger region.
What separates the Central Connecticut Chambers
from most other regional chambers, however, is that under the association's collective umbrella, smaller, local chambers are still able to maintain the unique cultural qualities specific to their communities.
"Where we can share, we share," Albert
"Where it's better to have local independence, we leave that alone.
What that means it that each of the seven chambers maintains its own board of directors, its own president, and many of its own officers.
And, even though each chamber typically opens its events to members of the other six chambers, it's certainly not unheard of-or discouraged-for a chamber to host its own separate event.
says that that's all part of ensuring each chamber of commerce maintains its own, individual character.
"Small towns versus larger towns versus industrial towns versus rural towns, they all have their own culture," Albert explained, "and nobody loses [that culture] as a result of joining the Central Connecticut Chambers consortium.
One of my first questions upon hearing about the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce
was a simple one: "But how does it work?
was not only explicit, but also extremely patient, in explaining it to me.
"Instead of having an event just for you chamber that would draw, let's say, 20 to 25 people, we can have an event that draws 50 to 100, to 200, to 300 people," Albert
continued, members get to network "a bit more robustly, more vibrantly.
And, not to mention, more frequently: "We do over 100 events a year," Albert
"That's two significant events, on average, per week."
It also makes for better speakers, like more prominent politicians, business leaders, or authors.
"Because you're larger, you get a little bit more attention," Albert
said, "which gets you access to bigger people, [like the] Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio kind of people."
And none of this is at any extra cost to chamber members.
Area business owners simply pay the normal member dues to whatever chamber they happen to belong to, and the Central Connecticut Chambers takes care of the rest.
"[Each chamber] gets to chose how deeply they want to go into the pool," Albert said, explaining how individual chambers might chose to become a member of the Central Connecticut Chambers.
"If you just want to let your members participate in our events, then essentially [your chamber] is just paying a membership dues to the central chamber.
added, affords a chamber's members such benefits as inclusion on the Central Connecticut Chambers'
mailing list, monthly mailers with all of the chambers' discount coupons and fliers, and an invitation to all of the chambers' events.
"Now, if you [come to us] and say, 'I also want an executive director, part-time, 20 hours a week, to help run events and board meetings,'" Albert
said, "then we add to the dues the amount of money it costs to hire a part-time person to come in and do your event planning and board management.
said that one similar, even more popular option is for smaller chambers to have a financial officer from the Central Connecticut Chambers
assist in doing their books and managing their bank accounts.
believes that such a model is highly impactful when it comes to a chamber's operational efficiency, since a lot of the more back-of-the-house jobs are fundamentally similar, regardless of where they are being done.
For example, Albert
explained, "when you have someone who's used to running golf tournaments [and runs] three or four of them a year, they can do it a little quicker, faster, better, [because] they just know the flow."
Hiring someone who understands and organizes such large events for a living, and understands the basic, logistical challenges inherent in doing so, might be more effective than having "somebody in your staff once a year drag out the folder and try to figure out how to put a golf tournament together.
Albert equates the three-year contracts that the Central Connecticut Chambers signs with the smaller, local chambers to the contracts one might sign in hiring a consultant group or a management company.
The biggest difference, however, is that after the chambers sign their contract, they continue to have say in the ins and outs "after the fact."
"Our Central Connecticut board of directors is made up of all the presidents of all the different chambers, plus some of their officers, plus the chairmen of some of the committees, which spread across the chamber," Albert
"So, when you're talking about contracting with the [Central Connecticut] Chambers, you almost end up contracting with yourself."
This is because, he
continued, the 42-member board of directors, which has representatives from each of the seven member chambers, has a lot of say in such matters as salaries for the Central Connecticut Chambers'
executive officers, the amount of money to be spent on individual events, the makeup of the Central Connecticut Chamber's budget, and which issues are going to be represented in the state capital, as well as who is going to be responsible for representing them.
"It ends up regionalizing a lot of the discussion," Albert
said, without losing much, if any, of each chamber's "local culture and local flavor."
Of course, working so closely across such a wide region of community and business demographics does not come without it challenges.
And the biggest challenge?
"We have to make sure that our events don't bump into each other," Albert
In order for an association like the Central Connecticut Chambers
to run smoothly, Albert
said, you "have to go in with some ground rules that everyone is more or less comfortable with, and [everyone] agrees with.
For starters, that means making a conscious effort to maintain similar dues structures.
Even though Albert
has found that potential members don't necessarily "comparison shop" when trying to decide which of the seven central Connecticut chambers to join, it helps that none of the seven chambers have membership fees profoundly lower than those of the other six.
"What we find is most businesses join the chamber of the town they're located in," Albert
"They move into town, they open up a restaurant, and that's the chamber they belong to.
Which brings up another component of the Central Connecticut Chambers'
agreement: "We have this rule that I don't go into your town and actively recruit members for my chamber," Albert
did mention, however, that on the rare occasion that a business from one town contacts a chamber from the next town over and asks to join that chamber instead, the business will be welcome to do so.
"We don't actively market to each other's clients, but if someone expresses an interest in becoming a members in another town, we encourage that," Albert
explained, "because it's good for everyone in the long run anyway."
Which speaks to the underlying, guiding principles of the Central Connecticut Chambers' operations: Albert said that the organization first came to be back in mid-1990s, when former Bristol Chamber President (and Bristol Mayor) John Leone realized that chambers of commerce in neighboring towns were struggling to remain afloat.
"And so [Leone] just said, 'Hey, not for nothing, but if we all got together, we could do better,'" Albert
"If you raise the tide, you lift all the boats," Albert