Pa. chamber attracts new businesses

January 14, 1997


Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Lured by the ability to buy health insurance at group rates, more than 80 new businesses - more than half with five or fewer employees - joined the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce last year, the group's vice president said Tuesday.

William Pukmel said the health insurance benefit gave the chamber one of its highest membership retention rates, 94 percent, in 1996. "An average year's retention rate is 85 percent," Pukmel said. The chamber ended the year with 756 members.

Many of the new businesses are sole proprietors who work out of their homes, he said.

The total employment of chamber members exceeds 20,000 workers, Pukmel said.

He said 428 of the members, about 57 percent, have fewer than five workers. Another 114 firms, 85 percent, have fewer than 25 employees. The chamber has 37 firms that employ more than 100 workers, he said.


Pukmel said the chamber lost 45 members last year. "The reason they leave is almost always financial - they go out of business," he said.

Chamber officials said the membership reflects a nationwide trend of growth in small businesses and the continued downsizing of corporate America.

An increase in the number of small business presents new challenges to the chamber's staff, Pukmel said.

"One of the challenges is to find ways to communicate directly with them. Smaller members find it difficult to attend chamber functions. I am talking about two-way communication were we can learn about their concerns and develop meaningful dialogue," he said.

The chamber has two affiliates: the Chambersburg Area Development Corp. and Downtown Chambersburg Inc. The chamber provides administrative services from its own eight-member paid staff to both affiliates for a fee, Pukmel said.

The chamber recruits businesses in the Greater Chambersburg area, including the Borough of Chambersburg, and smaller Franklin County townships like St. Thomas, Fayetteville, Greene, Guilford and Hamilton. There are separate, smaller chamber organizations in Greencastle, Mercersburg, Shippensburg and Waynesboro, he said.

The chamber also manages to wield some political clout in local issues, Pukmel said.

It convinced the school board to delay spending $2 million on computers for administration staff use, he said. "It had nothing to do with education and was of no help to the students," he said.

The chamber is also leading the fight to get the state to build a new Interstate 81 exit north of Exit 6 that Pukmel said is needed to ease area traffic problems. The Greene Township supervisors are opposed to the the proposed Exit 7.

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