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Chamber Celebrates 10 Years

McLean Chamber marks occasion with a gala Nov. 6.

“For us to be able to celebrate 10 years as a viable chamber is wonderful,” said Judy Miller, the first vice-chairman of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Gannett Inc. building at 7950 Jones Branch Drive.

In 1994, the McLean Business and Professional Association was formally established as a chamber. An honorary committee was formed to honor those who have shown support for McLean businesses over the years. “These folks either do business in McLean or live in McLean,” said Elise Neil Bengtson, the president of the Chamber. According to Bengtson, the honorary committee is a great way of recognizing what these individuals have done for McLean businesses over the years.

The Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce was established in order to promote McLean businesses in the community. However, the Chamber does not ignore the needs of the residential community that surrounds the businesses. “One would not exist without the other,” said Bengtson, commenting on the relationship between the commercial and residential McLean communities. The Chamber hosts a number of events annually to promote the growing relationship between the two.

FOR EXAMPLE, every spring the Chamber recognizes individuals from McLean for work in the community through annual community awards. A high-school student and a teacher from both Langley High School and McLean High School, as well a firefighter and a police officer from the McLean area, are recognized. Other community events include the decoration of the Chamber Tree with the firefighters from McLean, political forums that bring the candidates running for office together and allow the members of the Chamber to ask questions of them, and an annual Reindog Parade. The parade takes place the first Saturday in December.

Miller said that there is a good relationship between the residential and business communities in McLean, but that relationship could be better. She said that the small businesses in McLean are struggling to stay alive through the economic recession. “We need to encourage the residents to shop here,” said Miller. The Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce started a program, Shop McLean First, in an effort to keep the McLean residents shopping in McLean.

William DuBose, the immediate past chairman of the Chamber (July 2001-June 2003), said that the two communities are entwined. “We do a lot of community support,” said DuBose, citing programs like Shop McLean First, and the work the Chamber does with the McLean Planning Committee.

The Education Committee, one of nine committees within the Chamber, brings schools and businesses from the McLean area together. The relationship tends to work for both parties. A school may need computers or some other kind of help, usually provided by a business. On the other hand, the business may need interns or a summer work force, and the students from the school can provide such help for the businesses. The Chamber deals with elementary, middle and high schools.

There are almost 400 members in the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce. “Most of our members are small to medium [size] businesses,” said Bengtson. The main part of the Chamber’s work concentrates on networking among these members, bringing them together to do business with each other. Monthly breakfasts and dinner parties provide for much of the activity associated with networking. There are also annual business awards and an annual Casino Night. This year’s Casino Night is replaced by the Gala.

“We are happy to have members today that were members in 1994,” said Bengtson. One such member is the West*Group, the real estate developer noted for its work in the Tysons Corner area. The Chamber extends into Tysons Corner but shares some of its members with Vienna. “We have the best of both worlds,” said Bengtson, commenting on the smaller shops and boutiques located in McLean, and the larger businesses and shops in Tysons Corner. “McLean has a very good reputation in the whole metro area,” said Bengtson, “for its shops, and its people.”

Judi Nardella, a member of the gala committee, was a member in 1994 when the Business and Professional Association formally became a chamber. However, she left the area since then for some time. After moving back to McLean, last April, she rejoined the Chamber. “McLean is such a strong, vibrant community,” said Nardella. “It is a wonderful community to live in, to thrive in, and to send your children to school in.” She added that there is a great partnership between the residents and the businesses in McLean, and that the fact that there are members of the Chamber who were members in 1994 is a “nice testament” to the work the Chamber does.

THE CHAMBER also organizes a lot of fund-raisers and then uses the money for professional development programs, such as workshops on how to write press releases or deal with the media in general. “We are all about helping them grow their business,” said Bengtson. The golf tournaments are more than fund-raisers. According to Bengtson they are a place where a lot of the networking takes place.

DuBose said that he expects the Chamber to grow within the next five years, in terms of the number of members. He expects that the small businesses will continue to provide the strong base for the Chamber, and he hopes it can attract some larger businesses as well.

Despite the positive outlook for the Chamber’s future, its first chairman (July 1993-June 1995) and current Advisory Council member, Peter Agnew, warns of two critical aspects of life in McLean that could hamper the Chamber’s growth. Agnew wrote in a letter to the members of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce that traffic congestion, and the fact that McLean is getting more expensive to live in, may cause families, employees and employers to consider a move away from McLean. “All-day traffic jams,” wrote Agnew, “on major roads will make it very inconvenient to shop or work in McLean.” Agnew added that moderate- and lower-income families cannot afford to live in McLean, and that it may see major employers leave the area, which is “already happening in Silicon Valley.” Agnew urges the members to get active in the Chamber’s activities and programs.

The gala will feature gourmet cuisine and a silent auction, to include dance classes, a shopping spree and art. The Pan-American Symphony Orchestra (PASO) will provide the music. PASO is a local orchestra, recognized for highlighting Latin American music.

The event is open to the public, and tickets can be bought by calling the Chamber office at 703-356-5424. “We are hoping that it is going to be a big event,” said Miller, “and to get a lot of residents out to it, as well as businesses.” It is an occasion to celebrate the success McLean has had, both as a business community and as a community itself. “A lot of former members will be there,” said Bengtson, “and past chairs. A very fun group.”