MATTOON — The proposed merger of the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce failed to win approval from member businesses in Mattoon when the votes were counted Wednesday evening.
For the merger to go forward, it needed to win approval in both communities. The two organizations reported that 61% of Mattoon Chamber member businesses who cast ballots voted against the merger proposal. Under Mattoon Chamber bylaws, the merger proposal had needed to win at least 75% of the votes in order to be approved.
A total of 88% of member businesses approved the merger with the Charleston Chamber, where the measure had needed just 66.6% of the votes to pass under bylaws there.
The two organizations reported that 152 member businesses voted in Mattoon and 77 in Charleston. The Mattoon Chamber has approximately 315 members and the Charleston Chamber has approximately 250.
Jamie Rieck, president of the Mattoon Chamber board of directors, said they are disappointed that the merger was not approved.
"Both boards of directors felt a combined chamber could accomplish more for its members in terms of greater educational opportunities and a larger marketing voice," Rieck said. "But, as a member-driven organization, we must abide by the bylaws and will move forward as separate entities. Our board is committed to working just as hard for our members.”
The boards of the two business support organizations began formal talks in early March on merging and then voted in mid-May to approve a resolution calling for a merger. The idea was then presented to member businesses for a final vote starting in mid-July. The votes were due by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Jeff Baker, chairman of the Charleston Chamber board, said that during this process they have all come to understand how both Chambers work and have identified some areas in which they can combine their energy to improve services to their member businesses.
"Even though the merger was not approved, we can benefit from the strong bonds that have been created during the merger discussions," Baker said. "We will continue to have great mutual respect for each other.”
The Charleston and Mattoon Chamber organization have jointly held Community Update Breakfasts, Business After Hours open houses and other events in recent years, and they share approximately 70-75 member businesses. Businesses that are members of both organizations got to cast a ballot with each Chamber on the merger proposal.
A group named the Committee for the Preservation of the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce circulated a July 10 letter opposing the merger to Chamber members via Facebook.
The letter stated that the Mattoon business community would not benefit from its Chamber merging with the Charleston one, which has less membership and financial resources. The letter also voiced concerns on whether a merged organization would continue the Mattoon Chamber's golf outing, annual dinner and other events, and if it would adequately represent the two distinct communities.
"With a county chamber, the emphasis will be lost or misplaced for the individual community. What is the benefit to the Mattoon Chamber community?," the letter asked.
In 2004, a proposal to consolidated the two Chambers was approved in Charleston by 83%, a 130-30 vote, of member businesses there and in Mattoon by 58%, a 94-69 vote. However, a vote of approval from 66.6% of each Chamber's membership was needed at that time for the two Chambers to consolidate. The proposal, consequently, succeeded in Charleston and failed in Mattoon.