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Sherri Richards, Published June 30 2010

West Fargo businesses discuss chamber of commerce merger

West Fargo business owners expressed concerns Tuesday about the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce “swallowing up” its small businesses and city events if the West Fargo Area Chamber of Commerce merges with its counterpart.

The West Fargo chamber sponsored a town-hall meeting Tuesday to answer questions and gather public input on a proposed merger with the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber. About two dozen people attended.

The two organizations began meeting in April to discuss a merger. The Fargo-Moorhead Chamber will sponsor a town hall at 4:30 p.m. today at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

Members of both chambers will vote on the merger beginning Thursday. Ballots will be collected until 9 a.m. July 12.

“We are only here by your direction,” West Fargo Chamber treasurer Bernie Dardis said at Tuesday’s town hall. “We will only move forward by your direction.”

The joint chamber would have about 2,000 members. Its board would consist of 16 members, four from each city and four at large. The West Fargo office would remain open through at least May 2011, and its two staff members would join Fargo-Moorhead’s staff of 12.

Several West Fargo Area Chamber events, such as its awards breakfast, would be blended into a merged chamber event.

A new organization would need to coordinate West Fest, the city’s annual fall celebration, after 2010.

The West Fargo Area Chamber also serves as the city’s visitor center, so the city may eventually consider joining the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Dorinda Anderson, a chamber director.

Some submitted questions Tuesday asked if the proposed merger is driven by financial mismanagement.

“We are a viable, profitable chamber,” Dardis said. “Financially, we are secure. We believe there is risk in the future with dropped memberships.”

The West Fargo Chamber also does not currently have an executive director, so it is not paying that salary, Dardis said.

Dave Lerud, owner of Games Galore, said he supports the merger, largely because of his experiences with the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber’s Business After Hours events. “The West Fargo businesses will be exposed to more people.”

David Kruse, owner of Sheyenne Hearing Service in West Fargo, said he wouldn’t belong to a merged chamber because of increased dues and the possibility of West Fargo events ceasing.

“I think the F-M Chamber wants the West Fargo Chamber more than we want them,” Kruse said. “You can have my vote now, and the vote is ‘no.’ ”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556