The Board of Directors from both the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce (FFACOC) and the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance (SMEGA) have announced the completion of the merger of the two organizations. The new organization will be known as the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce (Chamber), effective January 1, 2019. Over the past year, the two organizations have been in conversations about the merger. The new organization will be located in Niles City Hall, 333 North Second Street, Suite 302.
Barbara Craig, Vice President, Student Engagement and Support at Lake Michigan College and Co-Chair of the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, commented, “Today’s announcement marks the culmination of conversations that have been taking place for the better part of a year about how to best serve the needs of the business community and the broader Niles Area. The missions of both organizations are similar, and the Boards of Directors have determined that together we’ll be able to more efficiently deliver a high level of service to our customers and our community.”
Horizon Bank’s Market President and SMEGA Board Chair, David Eifler, stated, “Though both organizations performed slightly different functions, they shared a vision of being a catalyst for economic growth in the greater Niles area. Now, together, we’ll be better positioned to raise the profile of our area, which in turn will drive new economic activity.”
The Chamber also announced plans to team up with the South Bend Regional Chamber (SBRC) on a contract for services, whereas the South Bend Regional Chamber will provide a number of administrative and support services to help elevate the Greater Niles Area, including Buchanan, Bertrand Township, Niles Charter Township, Galien, Three Oaks, and Cass County.
Jeff Rea, President & CEO commented “We’re thrilled to team up with the team in Niles to enhance the level of services the organization is able to deliver to its member investors. We believe this unique regional partnership will benefit both the Niles and the South Bend areas.”
FFACOC was first established in 1919 and serves the interests of its 300-member businesses and the nearly 40,000 residents in four townships. Its work has resulted in a diverse and thriving business community. FFACOC plays a community development role, focusing on the success and growth of industry, trade, civic activities, publicity, and public relations for the greater Niles area. Its offerings have included business advocacy, educational programming, networking opportunities, and the promotion of the community.
SMEGA provides economic development services to the greater Niles / Buchanan areas as well as communities in Southern Berrien County and Cass County since 1982. It has worked with existing employers, assisting them with their local expansions; has attracted new companies to the area; and has worked with small businesses and entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses in our communities.
SMEGA has been directly responsible for bringing numerous businesses to the area, initiating and operating a business incubator center, directing the development of the Bertrand Crossing Industrial and Technology Park, and the development of the Niles Industrial Park. These efforts have resulted in hundreds of jobs for residents of Southwestern Michigan. SMEGA has also been the catalyst for thousands of dollars of grant money to improve infrastructure in the greater Niles area.
The new organization, the Chamber, will be governed by a new Board of Directors made up of representatives from the FFACOC and SMEGA organizations. That Board will include Ron Barger of Classic Communications; Barbara Craig from Lake Michigan College; Bill DeLuca from Teachers Credit Union; David Eifler from Horizon Bank; Steve Hicks, Bertrand Township Supervisor; Ric Huff from the City of Niles; Deb Johnson from Lakeland Health; Bill Marx from the City of Buchanan; Jeff Rea from the South Bend Regional Chamber; Larry Reichnadter of Garden City Products; Attorney Sara Senica; Scott Tyler of Tyler Automotive; and Mark Weber of the Niles-Buchanan YMCA. The organization will be staffed by Jeff Rea, President & CEO; Barkley P. Garrett, CEcD, Director of Economic Development; and Eileen D. Villanueva, Membership Coordinator.
Garrett commented, “I’m excited about this new direction for the greater Niles area. Chambers have historically been all about driving economic growth in a community and we believe the partnership here makes a lot of sense. I look forward to working with Eileen and all of those historically affiliated with the Chamber on this new model that will significantly advance the business interests of our region. Together, we’ll be able to deliver an enhanced level of services to the Greater Niles region. We will be giving our businesses and our community partners a one stop shop for all of their business and economic development needs.”
Villanueva declared, “The greater Niles area is a wonderful place to live and do business and has a lot to offer. I’m thrilled by the opportunity to work with SMEGA’s distinguished community leaders as we work together to move forward on our goals of helping grow the greater Niles area.”
Over the next several weeks, the two organizations will consolidate offices into the SMEGA office space at Niles City Hall. The Chamber will vacate its current space at 321 E. Main Street in the historic Andrew Carnegie Library. A new use will be sought for that building, built in 1902 and owned by the City of Niles. The phone number for the new organization will be 269.683.1833, while nilesmi.com and southwesternalliance.com will be consolidated into greaternileschamber.com.