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September 21, 2017

Business organizations agree to “unity plan”

It was time for the friction to go away and for the business community to come together as one group.
— Tony Tedeschi, Warrenton chamber’s founding president
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After several merger attempts over the last five years, the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce and the Warrenton Regional Chamber have agreed to “a unity plan.”

“Fauquier’s two largest business associations will unify their operations beginning Oct. 1,” the groups announced Thursday morning in a joint press release.

Both organizations’ boards approved the plan Wednesday, according to those involved in negotiations that started three months ago.

The Warrenton chamber’s founding president, Tony Tedeschi initiated the most recent merger talks — two meetings of each board’s representatives at the Holiday Inn Express.

“There was still some friction between some members (of each chamber), but I didn’t see the reason for it,” Mr. Tedeschi said Thursday morning. “It was time for the friction to go away and for the business community to come together as one group.”

He and others founded the Warrenton chamber in fall 2009 with an intense focus on “small and microbusinesses.” The founders also had issues with the Fauquier chamber’s previous executive director, whom Mr. Tedeschi described as a micromanager who stifled initiatives that focused on small startups. The older organization’s dues and costs for events, such as promoting and hosting ribbon cuttings, also seemed too expensive, he said.

The new chamber created a “Business Assistance Team” to help struggling enterprises as the Great Recession took hold.

But, in recent years, the two organizations have cooperated on ribbon cuttings, candidate forums and other events. Under President Joe Martin, who joined as its top staff member in 2011, the Fauquier chamber tried to address past concerns and to encourage a merger.

“I can’t say why it didn’t work in the past,” Warrenton chamber President Brian Roeder said Thursday.

His organization has achieved its goals, especially creating a focus on small businesses and startups, Mr. Roeder added. Fauquier has relatively-new business incubators and other resources to support those companies, he noted.

“Our community has 6,000 registered businesses,” he said. “Most are operated by one or two owners. This initiative strengthens our community’s support for those business owners and the entrepreneurial spirit which accounts for 75 percent of U.S. economic growth.

“We are excited about the new opportunities presented by this comprehensive unity plan.”

The plan calls for the Fauquier chamber to create a “Microbusiness Council,” similar to those it has for women, young professionals and education, explained Chairman Linda McPherson.

Two Warrenton chamber board members — Michelle Coe and Wes Shortridge — also will appear on the Fauquier chamber’s proposed slate of directors for 2018, Ms. McPherson said. Fauquier chamber members will elect officers and directors Nov. 4.

Warrenton chamber members will vote on the plan — essentially calling for their organization’s dissolution — at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Barrel Oak Winery near Delaplane, which Mr. Roeder owns.

Assuming membership approval, the organization will pay its final bills and decide how to distribute remaining funds — possibly refunding some dues, he explained. The Warrenton chamber has operated on an annual budget of about $60,000.

If members reject the proposal, Mr. Roeder said: “The question would be, ‘OK, what’s your plan?’ ”

Many business owners have complained about redundancy and paying dues to two organizations.

A survey of its members last year, verified those concerns, Mr. Roeder acknowledged. As a result, the Greater Warrenton Chamber of Commerce recently changed its name and focus, eliminating routine events, he said.

Mr. Roeder said 102 of his organization’s 180 members also belong to the Fauquier chamber. The larger group has 500 members.

The merger will result in “more energy” and more clarity, Ms. McPherson suggested.

“It has been confusing for new businesses that come into the community,” she said of having two chambers of commerce. “It will be clear where new businesses can find support and networking opportunities.”

Mr. Tedeschi predicted “a much stronger” chamber a year from now because of the merger.

The Fauquier chamber has three staff members. The Warrenton chamber had one, and for much of the last year has operated without an executive director.

“It’s not about the organization, it’s about the mission . . . the service to the community,” Mr. Roeder said of his board’s 7-0 vote to merge.

When he started his printing business more than 25 years ago, Fauquier chamber Executive Director Sally Murray “grabbed my hand, walked me around and introduced me to people,” Mr. Tedeschi said. “We still need to do that. That’s the main thing.”
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TooTrue · September 26, 2017 at 1:18 pm
It is a smart move.
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