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UPDATE: The Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce's chief executive responds to anxiety expressed by nearby chambers.

The Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce has announced plans to rebrand itself as a countywide chamber of commerce.

The chamber's board of directors unanimously voted to change the name of the county's largest business organization to the "Washington County Chamber of Commerce" on Tuesday, June 22.

Jayne Bond, chair of the chamber's board of directors, made the announcement to chamber members Wednesday night, June 23.

"This change of greater influence will be an advantage to you, our members, and we look forward in assisting you make the most of the new opportunities these changes provide, including an amplified voice and expanded representation," Bond wrote to chamber members, which will need to approve the change.

Members of the chamber will vote to "solidify" the decision between July 1 and July 12, Bond said.

Chambers of commerce work to promote local business communities and advocate for business interests. Chamber membership is often made up of business owners from a wide array of local businesses, from major employers to small one-person outfits. (Full disclosure: This newspaper is a member of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce).

Bond said the decision to rebrand comes as Washington County and its business community have seen rapid growth.

"This change will provide a stronger advocacy voice at the city level, and an even stronger voice at the county level, as well," Bond told members. "Our new name will ensure that all Washington County businesses have an opportunity to weigh in on important issues impacting their business, and your Chamber will be leading the way."

The change will not alter the chamber's current programs or members' dues structures, she said, adding that affordability is more important than ever for businesses that are emerging from the pandemic.

The changes come nine months after Hillsboro Chamber first began discussions it said would provide "a unified business voice" to the county.

Board officials convened a meeting with the eight other chambers in Washington County to discuss sharing resources and enhancing collaboration.

The Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce expressed interest in furthering the conversations, Bond said. In March, the two chambers entered into a shared leadership contract, placing longtime chief executive of the Hillsboro Chamber Deanna Palm as the interim president and CEO of the Beaverton Chamber while serving in her Hillsboro Chamber role part-time.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Deanna PalmThat relationship ended abruptly two months later, when the chambers announced that the shared contract had ended, despite the Beaverton Chamber not identifying a new permanent leader.

Palm returned to her role with the Hillsboro Chamber full-time.

It's unclear how the rebranding decision will affect Washington County's eight other chambers.

In an interview Friday, Palm said she doesn't think the change will compel members of other chambers across the county to choose between remaining a member of their local chamber or becoming a member of the Washington County Chamber.

"I anticipate and expect that it's an 'and,' not an 'or,'" Palm said. "That's really super important to me, having a career in the chamber of commerce business. Every community is unique and every community needs to have a support resource in their own community. We're not looking to replace any of that."

She added that Hillsboro businesses would not lose their local advocate.

"This is an amplification and an elevation of all of the chambers of commerce and all of the businesses in Washington County," Palm continued.

Palm declined to comment on why the Beaverton Chamber didn't decide to move forward with unifying. Keith Wright, board chair of the Beaverton Chamber, didn't respond to a request for comment before this newspaper's print deadline.

Stephen Smelley, interim president and chief executive of the Beaverton Chamber, said Monday he wanted to speak with Wright and other board members before being interviewed about the Hillsboro Chamber's announcement and the previous shared leadership arrangement.

While Hillsboro Chamber officials are excited about the possibilities, the move has left Washington County's other chambers of commerce feeling nervous.

"We will be providing a cohesive message in the near future, but for now, I will say that this is not in the best interest of any Washington County chamber or their members including Hillsboro's," said Juanita Lint, director of the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce, in an email. Forest Grove and Cornelius merged its chambers in 2013.

At least one local chamber of commerce was unaware that the Hillsboro Chamber planned to announce the name change.

"I'm not aware of that," said Russ Sheldon, president of the North Plains Chamber of Commerce, adding that he knew the Beaverton and Hillsboro chambers previously engaged in discussions about merging.

Sheldon also questioned whether the Hillsboro Chamber had the authority to rebrand itself as the Washington County Chamber.

"I'm not sure they can do that," he said.

Palm said she made sure to make the information available to other chambers by scheduling a meeting with the Washington County Chambers of Commerce Partnership hours after the Hillsboro Chamber's board made its decision on Tuesday, June 22.

The Hillsboro Chamber planned to hold a presentation and question-and-answer session for members at its annual meeting Tuesday, June 29.

It will also hold listening sessions for members from 2 to 3 p.m. Monday, June 28; from 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 30; and from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 10 to 11 a.m. on July 1.


This story was updated Tuesday, June 29 with additional comments from Deanna Palm.


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