History of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce
The Amherst Chamber of Commerce was created in 1957 by a group of Williamsville businessmen - the majority representing businesses along Main Street. There was, at the time, a great deal of crossover of leadership between the public and private sector. In fact, the Chamber office was housed in the basement of Amherst Town Hall and staffed by a part time secretary.
In the 1970's, as Amherst started expanding its commercial base, the Chamber of Commerce began to grow. A very active volunteer leadership drove expansion of numerous businesses in the town including: AAA; Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital; the Marriott Hotel. The Chamber was also instrumental in the founding of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, which began as a committee of the Chamber.
In the early 1980's the Chamber faced some major challenges. Like many of its counterparts across the country, the Amherst Chamber was viewed more as a social group than a business organization and needed to create a return on investment philosophy to encourage corporate support. An Executive Secretary - current Chamber President Colleen DiPirro - was hired in 1981. Membership stood at 180 (mostly small firms and sole proprietors) with an annual budget under $ 25,000.
A major driver for membership at this time was group health insurance. In the 1980's, a firm with less than 10 employees could only get group health insurance from a chamber of commerce or trade association. Health insurance became the cash cow for Chambers of Commerce sprouting up all over Western New York.
The next 15 years were devoted to creating an organizational foundation that provided volunteer leadership an opportunity to have a voice in the future of our community and the development of member benefits; simultaneous to nurturing an ownership in the organization on behalf of our members
In the mid 1990's it became apparent that changes were coming in the health insurance arena. The 'cash cow' was drying up. Further, with the New York State economy suffering from high taxation and stagnant growth, businesses no longer joined Chambers of Commerce as a gesture of goodwill. They were looking for tangible return on investment. For the first time in 30 years, Chambers in the region were seeing their memberships decline.
At the Amherst Chamber of Commerce we realized that we needed to institute some systemic changes to remain viable in the long term. We were a very unusual Chamber. Unlike most suburban chambers, we represented a very large and diverse marketplace. Bigger than the City of Buffalo in square miles, the town is home to more than 7,000 businesses.
In the late 1990's the Amherst Chamber began to strategically plan for the future. Membership was broken into two categories; investors and customers. Investors were classified as larger businesses depending on the Chamber to drive public policy that represented their interests and who counted on us to maintain and nurture an economic climate that was conducive to their prosperity. In return, they were asked for an increased investment in the Chamber. Customers, however, were looking for a tangible return on investment. As a result, the Chamber was able to create a business plan that provided financial sustainability and gave members a clear prospective on what they could expect.
The Chamber realized there was a need to take a hard look at health insurance arena. In 2006, after significant research, the Amherst Chamber of Commerce created Benefit Solutions, a full service employee benefits agency. Not only does the Chamber offer a full benefits package for all size business; it provides service as well. Further, it is offered any member of any chamber in the region.
Also in 2006, the Chamber opened its Suburban Solutions Center. This facility provides meeting space for 1-45 people on an as-needed basis. It is a wireless facility and can provide the latest in technology and food service. Space is available to any business, Chamber member or not.