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Posted on Fri, Dec 18, 2009 : 2:55 p.m.

Chambers merge: Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti business groups form joint operation

By Paula Gardner

The business advocacy groups for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti will merge in 2010, forming the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber.

Directors of both the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce voted to form the regional entity.

"We're very excited about this," said Karl Couyoumjian, chair-elect of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. "It's exciting ... for both chambers to move toward regionalism and move away from any kind of dividing line. That's the goal of this."

Diane Keller.jpg

Diane Keller

Diane Keller will become president of the new regional chamber on Jan. 1. She has been president of the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce since June 2007.

The merger, she said, "is something we believe to be in the best interest of our members."

Early feedback has been positive, Keller said.

One reason, she said, is that this move furthers a Washtenaw County regionalization effort in a climate where many entities - from businesses to schools and government - are redefining traditional borders to maximize benefits and reduce costs.

"The timing is right" for the chambers to lead the way with a formal merger, Keller said.

"Now more than ever we felt it was important to explore collaboration, and I’m pleased to see this effort move forward,” said Mark Ouimet, Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors chair, in the same statement.

Couyoumjian agreed.

"Going forward, we need to be able to support business regionally," he said. "This was a great way to do it."

Talks about the merger started in October, when a committee was established to explore the feasibility, according to a press release issued this afternoon.

But the idea began during a summer breakfast meeting initiated by Ed Pagani, outgoing chair of the Ann Arbor chamber's board of directors.

Couyoumjian said that meeting, which included Ouimet and Keller, raised questions about what the chambers could do together.

That eventually led to the committee that was established in the fall, Couyoumjian said.

Pagani's leadership "helping move this forward was critical," he said.

Ann Arbor's chamber has been under the leadership of interim president John Hansen since former president Jesse Bernstein left the chamber in June.

The Ann Arbor chamber had posted the job of president in November, after leadership talked about how the opening gave them an opportunity to consider new directions.

Further details will be announced at a breakfast event held on Tuesday, Jan. 12, from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence Building. Details about staffing, membership pricing and other issues are still being worked out, officials.

However, an office will be maintained in both communities, Couyoumjian said.

"And frankly, I think that's important," he added.

The Ann Arbor Chamber has its office available for sublease, but no deal is pending that would require the offices to move, Couyoumjian said.

According to the news release, the combined group will have 1,600 members. The Ann Arbor chamber had about 1,250 members as of early summer, and Keller said the Ypsilanti group has about 450 members.

Laurel Champion, executive vice president of, is on the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.


Larry Eiler

Sat, Dec 19, 2009 : 6:55 a.m.

Excellent leadership move for the two chambers to join forces. Given the hard economic times and redundancies of services, more organizations across the Ann Arbor Region should consider similar actions. The Ann Arbor School District is looking at privatizing custodial services and busing. Governmental organizations, police forces, fire districts and others all need to prudently review their activities, redundancies and consider how to work together to provide their services more efficiently.

Kristin Judge

Fri, Dec 18, 2009 : 5:35 p.m.

What a wonderful example of collaboration in our community! "Local control" must be redefined in the future to include a broader area than just our backyard. I hope this is one of many stories we will see in the future where service agencies, non-profits and governmental entities merge resources. In order to continue quality service that Washtenaw residents have come to expect, these collaborations are essential.