A North County business group hopes to bail itself out of financial deep water with its first major reorganization in 45 years.
The Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, which has lost money and members to the recession for about a year, announced last week itwould cut staff and office hours, trim activity expenses and producea less elaborate newsletter.
In a letter to some 250 members, the board of directors said the changes will allow the chamber to remain independent and keep its focus on North County businesses.
"The challenge is to do more with less," said Griff Hall, the board's president-elect. "Our aim is to provide the same kind of service."
In its first cost-cutting move, the board eliminated the executive director job held by Lisa Pitt. Board members credited Pitt with managing the group's $100,000 annual budget with help from only one part-time staffer and volunteers and with "eliminating the substantial debt that the chamber had accumulated over many years."
But they also said they no longer could afford to keep her.
Pam Kaizer, the part-time staff member, will manage anoffice that is open fewer hours at a new address, 103 South Crain Highway. The group is moving from 8 North Crain Highway to get a lower rent.
Board members turned down an offer to merge with the Anne Arundel Trade Council, a 1,000-member organization that lobbies for pro-business legislation, figuring that North County businesses need a group that focuses on the Glen Burnie area.
"We are a viable part of the Glen Burnie business community and surrounding areas, and the board felt that we could not merge and maintain our separate identity," board members wrote.
For about a year, the chamber has failed toattract many new members and has steadily lost old ones, said Mark T. Baumgardner, a past president and board member.
In the recession, members who have been forced to lay off employees or to seek bankruptcy protection can't afford the annual membership dues, which start at $150, or other chamber activities, he explained.
Nor will they become members of a second business group, such as the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, as many had in the past, Baumgardner said.
Hall said he doesn't foresee the group canceling annual events such as the Chamber Day bullroast or the Presidential Ball, a formal dinner honoring the incoming and outgoing chamber presidents.
"A lot of people are doing everything in their power to stay afloat," he said. "Just like any other business, we have to regroup."
That could mean relying more on volunteers using meeting space within the members' own businesses, he said.
To keep members afloat in tough times, the chamber is planning seminars and other activities, Baumgardner said.
The board will meet Wednesday to start mapping specifics of the new structure.
Baumgardner said he felt confident the changes will prevent the group from folding.
"We have very dedicated people who won'tlet it go under," he said.