Aspen chamber exodus: 50 members could drop out
September 1, 2009
ASPEN – The Aspen Chamber Resort Association expects to lose about 50 members this fiscal year because of the recession, the organization’s president said Monday.
ACRA budgeted $28,000 less this fiscal year than last for revenues from membership dues. It anticipates collecting $580,000, or 4.5 percent less, than last year’s $608,000.
“You just walk down the street and see the empty storefronts, and there will probably be more this fall,” said Warren Klug, vice chair of ACRA’s board of directors.
Fewer businesses translate into fewer dues-paying members, said ACRA President and CEO Debbie Braun. There is always a lot of turnover in businesses and chamber membership, she said. Typically, ACRA gains 100 new members annually and loses a bit fewer. This year the loss is expected to be greater than usual, she said.
The chamber may also lose revenue from members who are downsizing their businesses. Most businesses pay a fee based in part on how many workers they employ. Numerous businesses, from architects to newspapers, have sliced their staffs.
Klug said some small business owners are slicing expenses in an effort to survive. That will mean the chamber fee gets the ax, in some cases. ACRA kept its fees at the same rate this year to minimize the effect on members.
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Braun said the ACRA staff reaches out to businesses that aren’t renewing their membership and stresses why it is important for them to remain with the organization. Member benefits include discounts on ski passes, eligibility for health insurance coverage, and direct and indirect marketing aid.
The ACRA had about 866 members last fiscal year. It added about 180 members over the past decade. The average member pays between $500 and $600 per year.
The budget anticipates losing roughly 50 members this year. Braun said the ACRA board wanted to be conservative with the budget. She hopes the chamber doesn’t actually lose that many members. The next three weeks is a particularly important – and telling – period for the chamber. Typically one-third of members, or about 300 businesses, renew during this period so they can get discounts on ski pass purchases.
Chamber officials are anxious to see how the membership pans out because member dues are the single biggest source of revenue for ACRA’s general budget. The chamber budget anticipates total income of nearly $1.13 million this year. Member dues account for about half that income. ACRA also anticipates losing income in advertising and event sponsorships.
On the expense side of the budget, Braun said ACRA went through an exercise that most businesses are going through these days. “We have to do more with less. How do we do that?” she said.
Payroll expenses were reduced to $678,500, from $713,800 last year. A wage and salary freeze was instituted when the fiscal year started May 1, Braun said. The budget for performance bonuses was reduced by $15,000; commissions for signing sponsors and members is expected to drop by $11,000; and contract labor was reduced by $12,500.
Braun said ACRA has “eight or nine” full-time workers and numerous seasonal workers who staff visitors centers and information kiosks during the summer. The chamber “will probably have two less positions” this fiscal year, she said.
This year’s budget is down about $61,000, or 5 percent from last year.
A critical part of ACRA’s budget is accounted for separately. A 1 percent lodging tax is evenly split between transportation and summer marketing. The marketing is handled by ACRA. The tax revenues will produce between $450,000 and $500,000 this year, Braun said.