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Big changes in store for area chambers

By   /   Monday, November 23rd, 2009  /   Comments Off on Big changes in store for area chambers

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Ventura Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Zoe Taylor is stepping down, marking the latest — but not the last — shift in the way chambers do business in the Tri-Counties.

Taylor’s resignation comes on the heels of an exceptionally bad year for the chamber of commerce industry. With membership slipping, the regional organizations have no choice but to regroup and relaunch.

After leading the Ventura Chamber for more than 13 years, Taylor decided it was a good time to finally start her own consulting agency, where she’ll help businesses connect to government agencies.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while,” said Taylor, whose resignation is effective Nov. 30. “The [Ventura] chamber has been meeting with business coaches and talking with mentors and we decided it was a good time.”

Other tri-county chambers seem to agree that now is the time for change. The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce raised eyebrows when it went completely virtual this summer, and now the Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village Regional Chamber might take an additional city under its wing.

“Continued change is the constant,” said Taylor, who has more than 26 years of chamber experience. “The chambers that large corporations want to be associated with will have to evolve.”

Taylor reported a drop in membership at her chamber, as did Nancy Lindholm, president of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s been a very difficult year — as it has been for many other businesses — and it forces you to make decisions that wouldn’t usually come up,” Lindholm said. “When you can’t control income, you’d better be able to cut expenses.”

Lindholm said success is all about taking control of your cash flow, something Goleta Valley Chamber President Kristen Amyx had to face earlier this year when her budget was cut. She took the chamber online, setting up a virtual office to reduce overhead. The Web-only strategy has been in place for about six months.

As also discussed in the East Ventura County section on page 7, the Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village Regional Chamber could also see a shakeup in its operations by the end of the year. Agoura Hills, a city that misses the southern border of Ventura County by mere miles, is considering a transfer from the Agoura Hills-Oak Park-Conejo Valley chamber. The matter will be put to a vote at a December meeting. The upcoming vote raises some interesting questions; chief among them is the possibility of more combo-chambers. If the merger strategy works in the Conejo Valley, it could also be applied to the Ventura-Oxnard-Camarillo-Port Hueneme corridor. No one who spoke with the Business Times for this article commented on that possibility.

Mergers and other unorthodox solutions may sound drastic, said Oxnard’s Lindholm, but chambers everywhere are scrambling to make up the loss in membership revenue. “Over this past year, the average chamber in the U.S. had a 20 percent loss of members,” Lindholm said. “That’s the highest loss ratio since the 1980s.”

Still, some changes are hard to accept, especially the news of Taylor’s resignation.

“Zoe has had a very long and well-respected career in the chamber industry,” Lindholm said. “But if she goes forward with the consulting business, I know it will be a big success.”

Steve Doll, a former chairman of the Ventura chamber’s board, also thinks Taylor’s resignation might be difficult for Venturans to accept. “I can see how people would be shocked; when you think of the chamber, the first thing you think of is Zoe,” Doll said. “But right now chambers are taking a look at how they’re running things, trying to see if there’s a better way to operate. Maybe Zoe will end up consulting for the chambers.”

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