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West Fargo, Fargo-Moorhead boards weigh possible merger

The results of a West Fargo Area Chamber of Commerce poll conducted three weeks ago are in, with the end result a meeting scheduled for today (Wednesday, April 7) between West Fargo and Fargo Moorhead Chamber board members to share information regarding what a possible merger could mean.

Kathy Lewin, West Fargo Area Chamber board chairperson, said in an interview Monday that although all of the members did not respond to the poll asking whether chamber officials "should look at the possibility of a merger with the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead," the majority of those who did stated they were in favor of pursuing 'information gathering' talks with Fargo-Moorhead Chamber officials.

Talks of a possible merger resurfaced following the resignation of Executive Director Kent Campbell in January, after serving in the position for six months.

Since that time, there has been varied public comment from West Fargo Chamber members who feel a merger would be beneficial for its membership, and from those who think it's important to retain the 'identity' factor by remaining a separate chamber.

The comment released by West Fargo board members last week stated: "After polling all of our members, the general consensus of our membership is that our board of directors should proceed with collaborative talks on the possibility of a merger. We would like our membership to be aware that we are taking all concerns/comments seriously and will be advocating for our members. As promised, we will be keeping you abreast as these future meetings transpire."

Reinforcing this text Lewin said, "We will be meeting with Fargo-Moorhead officials and talking about the concerns of our membership and what will best serve our community, and what the FM Chamber has to offer us."

Among the topics West Fargo will bring to the table are: retaining a satellite chamber office in West Fargo, along with present staff; cost to membership; representation of West Fargo board members on a merged board; the future of such high profile West Fargo events such as West Fest, the Big Event, and Taste of West Fargo; the role of the present ambassador group; and the naming of a joined organization.

As a result of moving ahead with talks, Lewin said that the West Fargo Area Chamber will be required to provide membership lists and financial information to the FM board. In return, West Fargo officials would like the opportunity to review the FM records. "If we are opening our books, we would like them to do the same."

Lewin said that following today's meeting, an open forum will be scheduled involving all the membership to share information gathered and to answer any additional questions.

Lewin emphasized that even though talks are beginning, it doesn't mean a merger is in the cards. "We are just the sounding board. Before deciding any specific action, it will go to the membership for a final vote."

In the wake of the discussion to this point and what lies ahead, Lewin said that the chamber board has decided to put on hold the search for a new executive director.

Whatever the outcome, Lewin said "West Fargo doesn't want to be the forgotten child. We want to maintain our high profile community identity and continue to work to keep our city 'on the grow' growing."

Karen Lauer, chairperson of the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead, stated "that from the Chamber of FM perspective we believe that as a membership driven organization we need to be responsive to comments that we've received from our members and that the time appears to be right to engage in more detailed discussions about the possibility of working together as a merged organization. Simply from an ability to influence public policy issues there's always going to be strength in numbers, so that would be one reason that this might make sense."