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Chamber: A business in business to help others

September 14, 2007

Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce

Address: 28 W. Washington St., Suite 200, Hagerstown

President: Brien Poffenberger

Telephone: 301-739-2015

E-mail: chamber@hagerstown.org

Web address: www.hagerstown.org




Brien Poffenberger likes to tell people to think of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce as a small business whose business is to help other businesses.

To that end, the Chamber works in three main areas to help local businesses thrive, said Poffenberger, who became the Chamber's president three years ago.

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One is the services offered to members - networking through Chamber-sponsored events, organizing educational programming and providing discounts from other member businesses, even an electricity co-op that gives participants a break on their utilities.

Another is the Chamber's role as an advocate for the business community. For example, each year, the Chamber develops a legislative agenda and partners with local governments and other business groups to hire a lobbyist to represent the business community to state lawmakers in Annapolis.

Finally, the Chamber gets involved in community development programs and projects, designed to make Washington County "a better place to work and live," Poffenberger said.

The Chamber of Commerce is not an arm of any local government, but is a nonprofit organization supported mainly by its membership. Its effectiveness can be measured in several ways, Poffenberger said.

There's its high membership retention rate of more than 90 percent.

Or one could look at how well its legislative agenda fares in the General Assembly.

Another way to measure the Chamber's impact, he said, is to look at "what tables are we asked to sit at - where is our counsel sought?"

From the Economic Development Commission to the Commission on Aging, the Chamber frequently is asked to provide representatives to local boards and commissions. Poffenberger said he sees such service as a way of helping to improve the community.

This year, the Chamber hopes to expand the breadth of its lobbying efforts, he said.

Additionally, the Chamber likely will sponsor 80 to 90 events for its membership. And it will continue an effort to modernize its approach to serve a changing business environment.

"We have to reinvent everything we do," Poffenberger said, which includes making Chamber events different and engaging.

It also means "looking beyond South Mountain for the answers to our problems" after decades of not looking outside the community for advice on dealing with economic or community issues, he said.

"We can't really beat ourselves up over that because until 20 years ago, we could solve our problems here," he said.

Since then, the business climate has changed. And the county saw a major growth spurt a few years ago that was greater than some agencies anticipated.

But "none of our problems are new," Poffenberger contended. "They're only new to us."

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce has about 600 members.

Staff members include Poffenberger, Director of Operations Donna Long, Director of Marketing Mary Anne Burke, Director of Membership Susan Murray and Administrative Assistant Michelle Mathias.

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