Lenox Chamber of Commerce eyes stronger Town Hall ties, other goals

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LENOX — The Chamber of Commerce, under new and emerging leadership, aims to expand its presence in the town's commercial zones by improving communication, working more closely with town government and adding 25 new members to its roster of 175 businesses and nonprofits.

At the organization's public meeting Thursday evening, those goals will be detailed by the marketing, events and membership committees, said chamber President and board Chairman Robert Murray, elected last month to succeed hospitality industry leader Carl Pratt.

The chamber is forging closer ties with Town Hall as demonstrated by its choice of Selectman Channing Gibson as guest speaker to discuss new opportunities for enhanced collaboration, Murray pointed out.

The public event begins at 6 p.m. in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare & Company campus, 70 Kemble St.

Gibson said he will offer suggestions about what town government can and can't do to enhance small business development.

"We can't recruit businesses to come to town," he said. "The chamber is better-positioned to do that."

But as a participant in a regional economic development zone, Gibson noted, the town can consider applications from new businesses for special tax exemptions and similar incentives. Those tax breaks require approval from the Board of Selectmen, town meeting voters and the state.

Town Hall also can present proposals to voters aimed at streamlining zoning regulations that are perceived as difficult challenges for new businesses, he said.

Murray, the owner of Overlee Property Holdings, a commercial real estate business with several downtown holdings, said an announcement of a new executive director to succeed Ralph Petillo, who resigned as of Jan. 31, is just weeks away.

"We have enough candidates now," he said in an interview on Monday. The position pays about $40,000 a year.

A key priority is to improve communications, Murray said. "We have a very energetic and balanced board, and the retail group is very well represented," he stated. The Lenox Merchants Group, whose motto is "Shop Lenox," is expected to be amalgamated with the chamber.

As Murray sees it, the chamber's major goal is to "strengthen the Lenox brand, 'We're open for business.' "

The organization is also expanding its calendar of downtown events designed to help local businesses while catering to visitors and attracting residents of the town and the county to the historic district.

A digital-first approach, on top of the chamber's 30,000 printed brochures, is also high on the agenda, Murray said. He described the organization's enhanced lenox.org as one of the most visited tourism and government websites in the county.

A new software tool is being devised to track members and nonmembers, and the town's recently launched mobile app, Lenox in the Berkshires, is off to a good start, he said. "There's a lot more opportunity with that to communicate with younger tourists," he said.

Since the town depends heavily on visitors, Murray said that "we're in an extremely competitive environment. If we don't work together and find ways to attract tourists, we're going to struggle."

Residents benefit from the $2 million in annual meals and lodging tax revenue that helps hold down the rate of property tax increases, as Town Hall leaders often point out.

"Town government has a very big stake in economic development," Gibson said.

He suggested that a bit more of the tourism tax revenue could be used to promote events and to support projects and ideas that benefit the town.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If you go . . .

What: Lenox Chamber of Commerce general meeting, open to members, non-members and the general public.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St.

Why: Presentation of reports on marketing, events and membership strategic goals. Selectman Channing Gibson, the guest speaker, will discuss ways the town can work more closely with the organization representing 175 businesses and nonprofits.


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