Our view: The chamber has it right
Sometimes the best move any leadership group can make is to formally recognize that the world has changed around it, that the same old approaches and attitudes should be set aside. This is true, even when there is no crystal ball telling everyone where to go next, which is absolutely always the case.
The leadership of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce has taken one of those leaps of faith by announcing an intent to expand the organization's membership into Manchester and throughout the entire Northshire.
As many are aware, there are some at both ends of the county who will be less than favorably disposed to this idea. Business interests in the Northshire and in the Southshire have long seen themselves, and their needs from a business organization, as distinct, if not entirely at odds.
But just maybe times have truly changed. We are living in a world of regionalization, not one where cozy local organizations can as easily thrive, as in the past. State and the regional planning and economic development agencies and organizations have certainly jumped on-board with regional approaches and the pooling of resources energy — urging Vermonters to think of Southwestern Vermont, not just the county, and of Southern Vermont, not just our modest-size corner of the state.
It is without doubt true that businesses and residents from other regions looking at Vermont are less likely to think in terms of towns or villages, but of counties or regions.
The work of the Shires of Vermont Regional Marketing Organization provides an example of where the focus is today. The branding of this county as the Shires of Vermont a decade ago, when it had long been two shires with two approaches and rarely a twain of cooperation, was itself a strong signal that regionalization was the word.
So the Bennington chamber's 2020 Vision plan to expand membership northward and increase revenue and services countywide deserves regional support. While many in the Northshire want to create a nonprofit promotional business organization, their aim should not be to compete with the long-established, well-run Bennington organization but to cooperate with it and support the chamber in both promoting the region and spurring business development.
And Bennington area businesses shouldn't balk at this expansion, fearing they will lose out in terms of attention or services rendered by the chamber staff. Thinking small at either end of Bennington County would be a mistake.
To very loosely paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: We are all Manchesterites, We are all Benningtonians.
In that spirit, perhaps it's also time to change the name of the organization to the Bennington County Chamber of Commerce.
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