Business associations strike deal

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The Manchester Business Association and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce have reached an agreement under which the MBA will work with the chamber as its liason in the Northshire and both organizations will help each other attract and serve members.

Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding announced last week, members of the MBA will be eligible to join the Chamber at a discounted rate. In return, the Chamber will no longer actively pursue memberships from Manchester businesses, and will subsidize the staffing the visitors' center on the main Roundabout, with staffing approved by the MBA.

MBA president Paul W. Carroccio announced the agreement between the two groups at last week's Manchester Select Board meeting. He was present to answer questions as the board approved the formal agreement releasing up to $50,000 in matching marketing funds pledged to MBA by Town Meeting voters.

"We think it's a good win for us," Carroccio said.

According to details of the agreement provided by Chamber executive director Matt Harrington, the proceeds from combination memberships will be split between the Chamber — with $150 of each membership sale providing staffing to the Manchester Welcome Center — and the MBA, which will use its share to meet its financial obligations.

All current Chamber Manchester members will have the ability to become a combination member of both organizations starting this month, according to the agreement, with those membership dues paying for a full year of the MBA membership (July to June 2019) and a year and a half for Chamber dues (July to December 2019).

The MBA will discuss more of its plans at public forum in the ballroom of the Kimpton Taconic Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. At that meeting, the non-profit organization will report to the community on its achievements of the past six months, and discuss its budget for the year going forward, and a membership proposal going forward. More of those details will be rolled out in the next week ahead of the meeting, Carroccio said.

Carroccio said the MBA had developed a good working rapport with Harrington over the past year, and was able to work out the agreement over a period of a few months. Joy Proft, the owner of Joy All Things Underthings and a board member of both organizations, was a key player in reaching that agreement, Carroccio said.

In particular, according to Harrington, the conversation focused on smaller businesses, and how they might work together to make membership in both organizations more affordable.

Rather than compete with the Chamber for members, Carroccio said, the MBA proposed that it serve as the liaison between Manchester businesses and the Chamber. That, in turn, gives the Chamber the "node" it had wanted in Manchester as part of its "2020 Vision plan" for a chamber that serves both Shires of Bennington County.

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The proposition, Carroccio said, was "let us go manage that relationship with our business community and we'll be the liaison to your board. In turn, I think us supporting their efforts as a region can help us get some of the state funds that we're not able to get as a non-regional destination marketing organization."

"We didn't want to waste resources — that was the common ground," he said. "We're doing the heavy lifting with the Manchester community while they can focus on the greater region, and all that speculation and concern of the chamber regionalizing is now validated ... by an MBA who's super local."

Wednesday, Harrington told the Journal that he sees the arrangement as a "win-win" for the chamber, the MBA, and members of both organizations. "The main theme and continuing theme for us is definitely we're stronger together. So I think this is another great example of our ability to work together," he said.

The agreement allows the Chamber to achieve its goal of "boots on the ground" in Manchester, while also providing the value of Chamber membership for small business MBA members at a significant discount, Harrington said.

The agreement will remain in place for a year, at which point its performance will be evaluated by both sides.

"Dollars are tight and small business needs a much help as they can get, and we're there to help them," Harrington said.

Closer to home, the terms of MBA receiving public funds from Manchester's local option tax revenue for destination marketing are similar to the terms of the deal that released matching marketing funds to MBA a year ago. The funding will be released with $25,000 available right away, $12,500 on Oct. 1, $6,250 in December and $6,250 when MBA turns in its yearly report to the town.

The conditions are that the funds must be used on marketing Manchester, with no funds used to market businesses or organizations outside the town (including Manchester Village). Any funds remaining at the end of fiscal 2019 will revert back to the town.

Of the $50,000 in matching funds, $20,000 will be given to ITVFest, as agreed upon at Town Meeting.

Carroccio also announced that MBA has purchased the assets of ManchesterVermont.com., the website that it started working with more than a year ago, and has moved management of those digital assets to Mountain Media LLC, the publishers of Stratton magazine.


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