The Chamber of Commerce is hoping a new incentive package will help stave off its recent membership decline.
Kim Bova, who took over as the chamber’s executive director in October, said the package will give members access to a national health insurance network and a discount on Verizon phone services.
“I came in at a time of needing to redefine not only what this chamber is for Ridgefield, but also a conversation about what a chamber needs to be in this day and age. How does it stay meaningful, how does it stay relevant?” Bova told the Economic and Community Development Commission at its March 4 meeting.
“Right off the ground, the first thing in talking to members — people that are self-insuring are paying through the nose,” she said. “It’s a huge financial burden.”
The chamber set up a health benefits portal in early February that gives its members access to a national preferred provider organization (PPO) through the Elevate Wellness Association.
The organization groups small and medium businesses into a health insurance bloc, which gives them more bargaining power for lower insurance rates. Founded in 1993, it currently serves around 90,000 employees in 5,000 companies, Bova told The Press.
“For some people, it was a small improvement. Other people were like ‘OK, can I sign up for this right now, because you’re going to save me like $900?’” said Bova.
The program offers chamber members access to the portal as well as guidance from a consultant to walk them through the process.
“So you’re offering group plans to small businesses so that they can get the collective bargaining power, versus trying to go out and do it on their own?” asked ECDC member John Devine.
“Yes,” said Bova.
“We’re using group buying power; it has to be better prices than they can get for themselves on the exchange, and the coverage has to be better,” she added.
The program also allows business owners to give employees access to the chamber’s benefits portal. Bova thinks that will help businesses in town attract and retain employees, since the rates will be cheaper than what an individual could buy through the state insurance marketplace.
Chamber membership now includes an 18% discount on Verizon services.
“If those things are available at no cost to a member to pass on to their employees, maybe that helps keep a restaurant worker here … maybe that keeps a retail worker here, or an office person here,” Bova said.
She also has plans to offer members a reduced rate on electricity through Utilize, a company started in town.
“It’s very meat and potatoes sorts of things when we’re talking about health and electricity and a discount on your phone bill — but these are things that really add up,” Bova said. “Owners that free up those dollars can then put them back into their business.”
Both the health insurance portal and the Verizon discount are now part of the chamber’s basic membership ($295 per year, or $150 for nonprofits), as well as promotional and advertising material from the chamber, and a consultation on social media strategy.
The extra package of benefits are part of Bova’s plan to lure members back to the chamber.
“If you can attract another 100 members, I think you’ll be in good shape,” said Chairman Arnold Light.
“I have to,” Bova replied. “Just to be very blunt, the chamber has — there’s no other word for it — hemorrhaged members over the last several years.
“Quite frankly, we’ve got a lot of people on a spectrum of disenchanted all the way to pretty darn upset,” she added. “I’ve had my face melted off all over town … It gets the conversation going.”
She hopes the added benefits will essentially pay for the cost of membership dues.
“I want somebody to look at this and say, ‘why wouldn’t I? What I’m going to save on my Verizon bill, that’ll pay for my membership if I didn’t get another single thing.’”
She’s trying to convince business owners to give the chamber another shot.
“It was a little touch and go at first because people don’t know me from a hole in the ground,” said Bova. “I’ve been in Ridgefield — it’ll be 10 years this Fourth of July. So by Ridgefield standards, I moved here yesterday.”