In an email sent to members on December 19th, Portland Area Chamber of Commerce President Elle Lehman-Lay announced that the organization would be ceasing operations.
The email stated, “After serious thought and consideration, the Portland Area Chamber of Commerce, through its Board of Directors, has made the decision to wrap up its affairs and eventually cease operations.”
The full text of the email may be found below.
At this time of this posting, the organization's website already appears to be partially taken down.
According to the nonprofit’s Facebook page, “The Portland Area Chamber of Commerce is organized to advance the general welfare and prosperity of the Portland and surrounding areas so that its citizens and all of its Chamber Business Member community shall prosper. All necessary means of promotion shall be provided and particular attention and emphasis shall be given to the economic, civic, commercial, cultural, industrial and educational interest of the area.”
Portland City Manager Tutt Gorman told the Beacon, “the chamber has struggled to have volunteers for many years and has been the elephant in the room. I think the board just felt it was time. The city and area is booming economically. We just live in a different age where chambers struggle to be relevant, not to host events, but truly serve its members.”
Gorman also said, “In a small town like Portland, organizations are often competing for volunteers. It’s important that groups remain focused and stay true to their mission and purpose. Here, the chamber recognized years ago that members were not getting the intended “benefit” (to help businesses) and made efforts to right the ship. Although a given event may be popular, its tough to make the argument that is promoting chamber businesses.”
Gorman added, “In recent years, the City has made similar decisions to eliminate certain programs and organizations that were simply not producing the intended results (Main Street Program, Economic Development Corporation, etc.). These may be tough decisions, but they are only responsible and prudent. Those resources can now be allocated to other organizations or elsewhere.
When asked for additional details on the decision to end operations, Lehman-Lay said, “we have been struggling for some time trying to find a way to bring benefits to our members with our events we host. Though the events we host are great community events, they do not directly benefit our members through advertising, promotion, etc. We are working diligently at this point to find a group or organization to pass our events on to. In addition to trying to trying to find ways to benefit our members we also have been seeing a decline in the need for our resources for businesses with everything that is readily available on the internet, social media, etc. We have enjoyed volunteering our time and effort for the community through this journey.”
The organization currently has 71 members. Lehman-Lay told the Beacon that the organization’s articles of incorporation date to 1984, “though I do not know if the chamber was operational before that.”
When contacted about the Portland chamber’s decision, Bob Thomas, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of the Michigan Chamber Foundation said, “Chambers of commerce are member-driven organizations. While it is disappointing that the Portland Area Chamber of Commerce board decided to cease operations, the only way for the chamber to survive is through the support of its members and leadership from its volunteers.”
Thomas added, “There have been no recent chamber closures in the last three years, but there have been several mergers or collaborations with economic development groups including Midland (Midland Business Alliance), Traverse City (Traverse Connect), Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, and Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce to name a few.”
Thomas also said, “The Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals (MACP) exists to support local chambers of commerce in pursuing professional and organizational excellence through professional development, board training, strategic planning, and operational benchmarking.”