Chamber plans move from Suffolk

Published 8:45 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is leaving the city of Suffolk.

But it’s not going far.

The chamber is looking to centralize all five of its individual branches into one regional office, with all of the Chamber staff operating out of that one office. Currently the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce office is located on East Washington Street.

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“We’ve already made the decision that we’re going to centralize the centers’ operation in one location,” said Jack Hornbeck, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. “But there are all kinds of factors that have yet to be determined.”

Those factors include when the move will take place and where the new regional office will be. Staff members are searching for a location for the shared space, and they may have a proposal ready within 45 days.

Hornbeck said the decision to switch to a centralized office a change in the needs of the area’s business communities.

“We’ve essentially found that the way Chamber is today is a lot different than it was even 10 years ago,” Hornbeck said.

“We see less people coming to us. Today, if people want information, they usually either want us to mail it or they get it electronically. What we found is we were not seeing our various constituents coming to us; we found ourselves going to them. We have a lot more meetings and events all over town, not in our offices per se, so we weren’t using our facilities for the most part. The space is relatively vacant.”

Additionally, Hornbeck said, meetings with Chamber of Commerce officials often take place in city leadership venues. For example, here in Suffolk, the Chamber routinely uses the Suffolk Economic Development Authority’s conference room that is located next door to the city’s Chamber office. Other cities, such as Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, do the same.

No date has been set for the move.

Hornbeck said the individual offices in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth Virginia Beach and Suffolk still have leases they want to honor, whether by physically staying in the locations or subleasing. Suffolk has the latest-running lease, which will be up in 2010.

Hornbeck also stressed that just because the chamber would not have a permanent space in Suffolk anymore does not mean that it will no longer have a presence here.

“We’re going to maintain a presence in each one of the five cities,” he said. “A chamber has a place in the community. It’s an important place, and we recognize that, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce has more than 2,500 members, representing about 300,000 workers, according to the Chamber Web site.

Andy Damiani, president of the Downtown Business Association, said he does not believe the Chamber leaving will have any negative effect on Suffolk’s businesses. In fact, Damiani – a Chamber member for 45 years – said having a centralized location has been talked about for more than two decades.

“That’s what they originally wanted to do in the ‘80s,” Damiani said. “I’m not surprised to see them go back to the old way. I hate to see the presence of having the Chamber of Commerce go, but we’ll get to used to it.”