2 Chambers of Commerce May Soon Join Forces


If there truly is strength in numbers, then the Thousand Oaks-Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce soon may make a mighty team.

The governing boards of each chamber are scheduled to vote today on a proposal to merge the two business groups. If approved by the board and then by the general membership of the two chambers, the groups would unify under a single administration effective Oct. 20.

Although combining the neighboring chambers of commerce has been discussed for the past decade, officials of the two groups said the timing is now right.

"In the past, each of the chambers tended to put conditions on one another to merge, and it really prevented the proper forum to pursue it," said Larry Carignan, president-elect and a 10-year member of the Thousand Oaks-Conejo Valley chamber. "There were a lot of issues about who was going to lead the [single] chamber, and I think a lot of the time egos got in the way."

Now, he said, the energy is being focused more on what would be best for the approximately 1,700 business members represented by the combined chambers.

"It seems to be that many businesses are merging, forming alliances, for the overall strength of companies--it's a new marketplace today," said Carignan, who tentatively is in line to co-chair and eventually chair the new chamber. "We decided to come together and review and think of what the benefits are for the members."

Topping the list of potential merger benefits would be greater networking opportunities, a stronger voice in the legislative process, stronger and less costly marketing and shared administration with reduced overhead.

Combining the experience of the collective membership, Carignan said, also would enhance educational opportunities for business owners--with more extensive programs on business marketing, business development and other issues affecting local companies.

"If we can create an organization that represents the entire Conejo Valley, to be a larger business group with one voice, it will give them better exposure of their businesses," Carignan said.

Janet Levett, president and chief executive of the Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce, said that although the two chambers represent distinct communities, there is little difference in the issues that affect the businesses of those communities.

"It doesn't matter where you are, the issues are still the same for businesses and the economic growth of an area," said Levett, a nine-year chamber member who likely would serve as president and chief executive of the new group. "We want businesses to come into the area, but we also want to keep the businesses we have."

Carignan agreed that the issues affecting local businesses are more regional than community-oriented.

"Maybe there are issues of the [Year 2000] problem and we will be able to help them through that with training and seminars," he said. "We'll help them enhance their business and get to know one another. The city of Westlake Village is a smaller community, but it has the same basic needs as Thousand Oaks does. Community businesses rely on one another for support and business."

A new office for a unified administration has not yet been selected.

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