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Chambers unite to serve small business

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The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has announced a new membership model designed to organize thousands of businesses as a unified force while also forging closer collaboration with the dozens of local chambers of commerce throughout the state.

Under the terms of the Maryland Chamber Federation, any business with 10 or fewer full-time employees that is a current paid member of a participating local chamber will receive free Federation membership with the Maryland Chamber.

“The Maryland Chamber Federation is a partnership with local and regional chambers to ensure that the voice of business is heard with minimal investment and maximum impact,” said Maryland Chamber President and CEO Christine Ross.

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce (HCC), Central Maryland Chamber (CMC) and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce (AAACCC) are among the initial group of 14 chambers that have joined the Federation.

“It really does expand the participation of business and creates more business-to-business opportunities for members,” said Maryland Chamber Board Vice Chair Stephen Woerner. “This is important during the legislative session when we can focus on combining our lobbying efforts with one voice. The knowledge gained at the local and regional chambers around Maryland will be tremendously beneficial … to have a consistent voice that’s well-informed from both a small and large business perspective.”

HCC President and CEO Leonardo McClarty has had experience with a similar model in Georgia, where he previously served 10 years at the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.

“As an executive, you’re pulled in various directions,” McClarty said, adding that many chambers don’t have the staff to dedicate to legislative policy issues. “This allows us to leverage our relationship with the Maryland Chamber in a more formalized manner, at the same time allowing us to truly enhance services to our members, particularly to our small businesses.”

Approximately 450 of HCC’s 700 members have 10 or fewer employees, “and I think that same percentage speaks to the vast majority of my colleagues,” he said. “We’ve always worked together with the Maryland Chamber, but I think now we’re taking it another step further.”

According to Ross, the Maryland Chamber will work over the course of the next year to add more members.

“We haven’t put a formal federation plan together yet for the General Assembly, but we will for the future,” she said. “We believe that the strength of the chamber brand in Maryland is going to be significantly strengthened by this.”