Despite their like missions, local chambers of commerce have not always gotten along. But in Bristol County, Mass., at least, necessity has led to collaboration where it previously didn’t exist.
The Southeastern Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau had for several years been in financial trouble that began during the economic downturn and only got worse due to state budget cuts, an inability to raise its required matching grant funds and what some call an unfair diversion of funds to other regional tourism councils.
Rob Mellion, president and CEO of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce, said the real trouble began when, in 2009, the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism closed Bristol County’s two interstate visitors centers, in Swansea and Mansfield.
Over the next few years, he and other leaders in the Bristol County chambers of commerce said, the state and business community lost confidence in the southeastern Mass. CVB, which left it in limbo and struggling to stay afloat.
An October 2012 audit of the CVB, which was incorporated in 1967, conducted for the period of July 2010 through June 2011 revealed it had failed to comply with the state’s grant-matching program and owed the state some $50,000.
It also revealed that the CVB had failed to establish proper internal controls.
In short, the organization was a mess.
“Through frustration, [we felt], if no one else is going to take up this cause, we will,” Mellion said.
The five chambers of commerce within Bristol County, Mass., announced in early April they had signed a memorandum of understanding to enter a partnership to revive the region’s tourism effort.
But they aren’t taking over the CVB, which has been dismantled.
The CVB sold the property in which it had been occupying on Second Street in New Bedford back to the state to pay its debt obligation. The small staff vacated the building in March.