For some time now, local chambers of commerce have recognized the efficiencies of merging everything from saving on rent and salaries to the ability to attract members from a broader territory.

Yet it took more than six years for the Northridge and Chatsworth chambers of commerce to finally reach an agreement to merge their organizations.

Political considerations, turf battles and identity crises posed such obstacles that the groups failed to reach an agreement in two earlier votes.

"It was a little bit like giving birth to an elephant," said Leslie Himes, who has been appointed co-chair of the new entity called the Northwest San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The Northridge and Chatsworth chambers finally approved the union earlier this month, creating a new entity with about 500 members and encompassing an area that includes Porter Ranch.

Concerns over retaining the identity of the different communities plagued the two groups since the consolidation idea was first proposed in 1994. By then the two chambers had jointly run a number of different events, and the advantages of a merger had started to become evident.

But while the proposal won the approval of the boards of both chambers, the majority of Northridge members failed to green-light the move.

"People didn't really see it as combining," said Maureen Fried, co-chair of what had been the Northridge chamber. "They saw it as a loss. (The thinking was,) we wouldn't be gaining a new community, we would be losing our autonomy."

During the second attempt, chamber leadership attempted to assuage the loss-of-identity fears by adding a banner under the chamber name that specifically identified the individual communities involved, but that solution failed to pass muster with the Northridge chamber board.

Last week, no one seemed really sure about what led to the final yes vote. But those involved pointed to a number of factors, including Fried's willingness to rally the Northridge membership behind her and a growing desire to resolve the issue and move on.

Like a number of chambers that have or are considering a merger, the new entity hopes to attract larger corporations to its membership roster while at the same time reaping significant cost savings by consolidating headquarters offices, management and other operating and administrative tasks.

Dwindling numbers

Membership at many chambers has dwindled in recent years, largely because their programs geared to small, localized communities no longer meet the demands of many businesses in the community. But by joining forces, these organizations can often muster more funding to improve their programs.


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