One of my favorite things about chamber work is watching the wisdom of crowds and the power of groups at work. A modest dues investment by one business combined with similar amounts from its peers soon snowballs into an incredibly powerful tool that benefits all. At the same time, smart management allows both focus and flexibility in order to avoid the pitfalls of a monolithic and lumbering “big fist” approach. The same principles are being applied to the ongoing collaboration between the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce and the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Since mid-August, work groups consisting of members from both chambers have been exploring all aspects of the ways both chambers approach their publications, their Web sites, their events (both internal and those that are community focused), and their economic and political initiatives. The plan is to report out on ways to increase value to the memberships of both groups.

The work of these four teams is now complete and will shortly be combined into recommendations by the executive committees from both chambers. These will be communicated to membership through a series of forums designed to look at options and do further brainstorming later this winter. Membership input will be the only basis for any recommended changes in the chambers’ structure and operations, and membership approval will be sought if there should be a recommendation of significant changes to the chambers.

These efforts are in response to increasing calls from many members of both chambers who feel their needs would be better served if the chambers of commerce coordinated their efforts toward regional growth while at the same time ensuring that all the communities represented by the chambers keep their distinct identities. From my standpoint, one goal would be unachievable without the other. There are real virtues to presenting a unified regional front in some areas while also preserving local autonomy and identity. This “federal principle” has served our nation pretty well and proved both resilient and flexible.

I should note that while local chambers are rooted in the communities for which they are named, membership is open to any business regardless of geographic location. Chamber work by its very nature is already regional in its scope, even without formal organizational restructuring. Indeed, such an approach in a tight and integrated economy is the key to servicing members across all industries represented. This is not a high school basketball rivalry: this is about our local economy. Furthermore, both the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce and the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce are built on the principle that the respective memberships own these organizations: any fundamental change without democratic participation and member input has no chance of succeeding, nor should it.

We are always looking for thoughts or ideas from area businesses (members or not) about how to make the chambers more effective while aiming for those two goals. Such ideas would be invaluable, as would any feedback on the process itself.

Dan Bookham is the executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce.