Two of the region’s largest chambers of commerce have agreed to merge, creating a regional chamber for South Santa Barbara County that mirrors efforts elsewhere in the region.
The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region and the Goleta Chamber of Commerce announced April 24 that they will combine memberships, creating an organization with more than 1,000 members under a name and leadership to be determined.
The groups said in a statement that the economic impact of COVID-19 prompted the move, adding that a combined chamber will speed business recovery efforts.
Founded in 1878, the Santa Barbara chamber is one of the oldest business organizations on the Central Coast but it has been operating without permanent leadership since the departure of former CEO Ken Oplinger.
“After 142 years of serving our community, we recognize that these times call for innovation,” said interim executive director Stephanie Armstrong in a statement.
The Goleta chamber, founded in 1978, is led by longtime CEO Kristen Miller, who said the combined chamber will continue in its role of “representing business to government.”
Talks about a combination have gone on for a number of months, accelerating after the pandemic shut retail, restaurant and travel-related businesses across the region. Both chambers have outreach efforts to area visitors and count on revenue from tourism-related enterprises as a key source of funds.
The Santa Barbara chamber is currently No. 2 in the region with about 1,000 members and Goleta is No. 12 with about 485, according to the Pacific Coast Business Times Book of Lists. Because some businesses are currently members of both, the San Luis Obispo chamber, with about 1,450 members, is likely to remain No. 1 in the region after the merger.
This is the third attempt to create a regional chamber for a large portion of the Tri-Counties. The Greater Conejo Valley Chamber resulted from the successful mergers of chambers in Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills in an area that has a growing tech culture. In recent years, a number of chambers in southern San Luis Obispo County have merged under the South County chamber banner.
The Goleta chamber operates in an area that has counted on technology companies including Raytheon, Karl Storz Imaging, AppFolio, Yardi Systems and others as key employers. The impetus to merge the chambers also came from the arrival of large tech companies, including Microsoft, Google and Amazon, which all have a growing presence in South Santa Barbara County.