Chambers of Commerce; Merging and Diverging
The Chamber of Commerce in DeKalb County has had a rich history of pursuing business and community development over the course of its eighty years of existence. However, for a brief window of around six years, the Chamber’s sole focus of DeKalb County expanded to include Metropolitan Atlanta through an affiliation between the DeKalb and Metro Atlanta Chambers of Commerce.
Due to the fact that the affiliation lasted less than a decade, one has to wonder what motivated it in the first place. According to various local news articles, there were talks going on as early as 1993 about a potential merger with the Atlanta Chamber. The 80s was somewhat of a slump decade for Chamber growth. There also seemed to be a feeling that if the two Chambers combined, there would be less waste of money and effort as both had similar goals they could be working toward together. Added to that was the fact that the South Fulton Chamber of Commerce had by then already affiliated with Atlanta, providing a precedent for DeKalb.
It certainly would not have been out of the blue to consider an affiliation. Given that Atlanta was and is sprawled across multiple counties, the Metro Atlanta Chamber was already to some degree working with and within DeKalb. In 1990 for example, the winning of the Olympic bid meant that coordination between Atlanta and DeKalb would be necessary to ensure the Games went smoothly. The Chambers of both viewed the Olympics as a prime means of growing and attracting businesses and planned accordingly. In 1994, the DeKalb Chamber entered into a partnership with The Atlanta Project (TAP), an effort aimed at developing business and increasing employment. These examples, among several others, showed that the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce was already working in various ways with the Atlanta Chamber. An affiliation was therefore not an incomprehensible proposal.
It was in early 1996 that the board of directors of the DeKalb Chamber voted 29-3 in favor of finalizing the merger. The reasoning given for the affiliation was that markets were changing and there was a need for a stronger regional voice. In addition, the affiliation would get rid of the competition between Atlanta and DeKalb for new members and for support on different projects. In the final agreement, DeKalb was to keep its offices, staff, board, and budget while gaining access to the Atlanta Chamber’s resources. While sounding incredibly nice on paper, a real challenge would be to ensure that in building up a regional voice, local businesses would not be pushed aside.
However, it seems that neglecting local businesses became an issue that helped lead to the eventual split of the two Chambers of Commerce. A study done in 2000 had revealed that DeKalb’s small and medium-sized businesses were in need of attention and assistance. Furthermore, the Chambers had come to realize that their core areas of focus were not the same. While Atlanta primarily wished to improve air quality, education, and transportation, DeKalb instead wanted to focus on global trade, diversity, and business growth. The split, according to the leaders of each Chamber, was amicable and would not prevent collaboration in the future.
While the affiliation did not last long, it did show that the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce was eager and willing to try new methods to further develop DeKalb. The Chamber kept to its mission statement, “to be the catalyst that attracts, supports, and advances business interests in DeKalb County, Georgia.” When it was felt that a big shift was needed to get the county back into gear, the Chamber went through with the merger. And when it was shown that DeKalb was no longer growing in the way the Chamber had hoped, the affiliation was terminated.
Ultimately, these brief merged years do not take away from the Chamber’s past. They instead add to the overall narrative of the service and growth-oriented history of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Sophia Malikyar
“About the Chamber – Who We Are.” DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, accessed Sep. 26, 2018. https://www.dekalbchamber.org/who-we-are/.
Armstrong, April. “DeKalb Chamber Cutting Ties with Atlanta.” The DeKalb Neighbor (DeKalb, Ga), Nov. 7, 2001.
Crane, Jerry. “Evolution at the Chamber.” The Decatur-DeKalb News/Era (DeKalb, GA), Mar. 14, 1996.
DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. DeKalb Chamber of Commerce to member at Leadership DeKalb. Letter, DeKalb, GA, 1996.
Glaze, Ayana. “DeKalb Chamber Back in Action.” The Champion (DeKalb, GA), Nov. 14-20, 2002.
Hermann, Phillip. “Atlanta, DeKalb Chambers Nearing Accord on Merger.” The Decatur-DeKalb News/Era (DeKalb, GA), Jan. 25, 1996.
Martin, Kirk. “Chamber Leads Cheers for Olympics.” DeKalb News/Era (DeKalb, GA), Sep. 20, 1990.
Saporta, Maria. “Leaders Talking about Merging Local Chambers.” The Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA), Nov. 1993.
Sell, John. “Chamber, TAP Form DeKalb Partnership.” The Decatur-DeKalb News/Era (DeKalb, GA), Apr. 2, 1994.
Stirgus, Eric. “DeKalb Chamber of Commerce will Split with Metro.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, GA), Nov. 24, 2001.