Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce debuts

The Chamber’s director, Lynn Harman, polled members about the direction of the group, and found concerns that its operations were Seaford-centric rather than Sussex at large.

By Roger Morris
Special to Delaware Business Times

The specter of losing state funding last summer set off a chain of events that resulted in the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce changing its name and location as well as reviving an effort to join the city chambers in western Sussex County, said Executive Director Lynn Harman.

The name change — to Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce — and change of its mission will be
in place by this spring.

“When the state was discussing in June dropping the 1 percent of the accommodations tax that goes to tourism, that would have cut out about one-quarter of our operating budget,” Harman said, “and we already had projects and campaigns for the summer in place.” The state budget and chamber budgets are on different cycles, so the effective loss for the year would have been about a 50 percent reduction.

Although the state tourism funding was eventually restored to the budget, Harman polled her roughly 350 members concerning the direction and charter for the organization. There had been complaints, she said, that its operations were being directed only towards the city of Seaford and not the larger region it represented, which includes Blades, Bridgeville, Greenwood and Woodland.

“The tourism work had been paying off over the past four years with a 20 percent annual increase in lodging in our area,” she said, but the decision was made to increase the emphasis paid to regional development and not just tourism. “We’ve also been working with Sussex County in its development efforts,” Harman said.

“We decided to move to becoming a regional chamber, which would also give us a much stronger voice in working with the state house,” she said. “Right now, we’re working on branding and our website before officially launching the new chamber.”

Additionally, the chamber relocated its offices from downtown Seaford to U.S. 13 between that city and Laurel.

During the same time, the Seaford chamber had been in talks about merging with the chambers in Laurel and in Delmar, which straddles the state line between Delaware and Maryland and is functionally a part of both states. “I’ve been a member of the chamber for eight years, and the idea of merger came up about seven years ago,” Harman said. “But at that time, Laurel had just hired a new director, and so the decision was made not to proceed.”

However, the Laurel director retired recently, and his replacement left after a few months, prompting the Laurel chamber to contact the Seaford chamber. “I’ve had meetings with both the Laurel and the Delmar chambers,” she said, “and I’m scheduled to meet with their members to discuss a possible merger.”

In the meantime, the newly named Western Sussex Chamber of Commerce will start working on its expanded mission. In the background is the issue of state funding, which is being looked at again. “I don’t see us as being in the clear yet,” Harman said.

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