Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce merge with 1Berkshire


PITTSFIELD — The final step of a plan that has been in the works for six years officially became legal Wednesday when three Berkshire organizations were merged into one.

Members of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce voted to approve a full merger with the 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance under the 1Berkshire banner at a joint meeting held at Berkshire Community College.

The votes were not counted, but no one in either organization cast a dissenting vote. A total of 220 people had pre-registered for the event, according to Berkshire Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Lindsay Schmid.

"This is a big night not just for the constituent organizations, but the county as well," said Attorney Donald Dubendorf, who had chaired the consolidation proceedings between the three organizations. "It's a celebration of what's possible."

Following the vote, a new board of directors consisting of members from the three separate organizations was formed to govern the newly combined 1Berkshire. The 37-member board contains seven members each who served on the Visitors Bureau and chamber panels.

Jonathan Butler, who heads the chamber, is already the COO of 1Berkshire. Visitors Bureau President Lori Klefos will become 1Berkshire's executive vice president.

The merger doesn't officially go into effect until July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. But when it does, the Visitors Bureau and chamber will cease to exist.

Approval of each organization's membership was the final legal step that needed to be taken to combine the three organizations into a single entity, a plan that has been discussed since 1Berkshire was formed in April 2010 to provide a single point of entry for those seeking to do business in the Berkshires.

The consolidation of the founding organizations was the final phase of a three-step process that was implemented when 1Berkshire was formed.

The Berkshire Blueprint, released in 2007, included a recommendation to unify the resources of the four organizations that created 1Berkshire three years later. The Visitors Bureau and the chamber were the last of those four organizations to operate as separate affiliates.

The new 1Berkshire will have 16 staff members and 1,400 member businesses, Klefos said. It will also include 7,000-plus email addresses, and 60,000 visitor email addresses. It has 8,000 plus Berkshire Facebook fans.

"A greater reach," said Klefos, adding "we'll be stronger together than individually.

"As a member of 1Berkshire, you now have a whole lot of new resources at your disposal," she said.

Butler said the three organizations combined into one entity means that members will "be getting more bang for their buck."

He said events that were formerly held by the individual organizations will continue to take place.

"We will continue to hold Good News Business Salutes," he said, referring to a popular chamber event. "We will also continue to roll out different creative economy programs."

Former chamber board Chairman Peter Stasiowski also noted the advantages one organization would have over three.

"Like everyone else we have our challenges, but we have something that others don't have and that's momentum," he said. "Today, for perhaps the first time in this community, the Berkshire leadership speaks in one voice."

The chamber was formed in 2000, but its origins date back to the Berkshire Association of Business and Commerce that was founded in 1911. The Berkshire Visitors Bureau was established in 1938, but it grew out of the first countywide organization founded to publicize the Berkshires, which was formed in 1927.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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