With the goal of increasing its political weight in issues affecting area businesses, the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce unveiled its intention to change its name to the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce last week.
If approved by its members, the name change would be the first time that the 47-year-old organization, which began as the Herndon Chamber of Commerce, drops the name of Herndon from its official title.
"The Dulles name is so well-recognized in the region, the nation and really the world," said Eileen Curtis, president of the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce. "The weight that it will carry with it in terms of our advocacy efforts and bringing our members together is something that we feel will be positive for everyone involved."
While the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce accepts members based anywhere in the world who have a business interest in the region, the change would mostly affect businesses based in Herndon, Chantilly and Centreville.
As part of the proposed changes, the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce would restructure itself to operate as two smaller chambers for advocacy on local-level issues one in Herndon the other in Chantilly and Centreville, Curtis said.
Chamber members are scheduled to vote on the proposal at on August 24. The change must be approved by a two-thirds majority, with at least 10 percent of eligible members voting. There are 611 registered business members in the chamber.
WHILE THE CHAMBER is suggesting the name change will create a unified regional identity that can more effectively address larger issues, some members are concerned that a broader focus might eliminate local advocacy.
"How are the issues that more directly affect the Town of Herndon going to be addressed by a broader group with a broader name?" said Richard Downer. vice president of HRI Associates, an insurance agency that has been with the Chamber since the 1950s. "There are a lot of businesses whose emphasis is in the immediate Herndon Community — and they are wondering if they will continue to be fully represented."
Hoping to allay these concerns, Curtis said that with the name change would also come changes to operations.
Under the proposed structural changes, the Chamber would segment itself into two local organizations that will focus primarily on issues affecting its members in Herndon and in Chantilly and Centreville, Curtis said. Those groups would address local-level issues under the names of the Herndon Chamber of Commerce and the Chantilly-Centreville Chamber of Commerce.
These two separate chambers would be represented by specific board members and under the larger umbrella of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a matter of perceptions when they go in front of [local officials]," Downer said, "but I like the approach that they are taking in designating separate local organizations."
Curtis was quick to point out that while there is a Centerville-Chantilly regional office, the headquarters for the chamber will remain in downtown Herndon for the foreseeable future.
"We brought back the name of the Herndon Chamber of Commerce and I think that sends a clear message," Curtis said. "We want to ensure people that our roots and heritage here in Herndon are very important to us and we are taking every opportunity to remain at the forefront of local issues."
Those local issues, Curtis said, include business perspectives on transportation and land use in local communities, but also in the continued effort for MetroRail expansion.
IT IS ISSUES like the Metrorail expansion to Dulles and other matters such as immigration reform that have influenced the decision for the organization to change names, Curtis said.
In 2005, the chamber called on the federal government to develop a guest worker program and to increase economic development projects in lesser-developed countries to reduce illegal immigration.
"I think [the name change] makes it even easier for political entities looking for someone to speak to who represents the business community interests in western Fairfax County to recognize and come to us," Curtis said. "It gives us a bigger bat, so to speak, when we go down to Richmond or to Capitol Hill on issues that affect us."
While a respected and recognized name is a boon for any group, the most important thing in terms of political influence is that a group be active and have a large membership, said Del. Tom Rust (R-86).
"Clearly Dulles is a more recognized name throughout the world — and it does encompass the idea that you're dealing with most of western Fairfax and eastern Loudoun County," Rust said. "We realize that when we're dealing with Dulles that this is an area that is critical in its economic impact for all of Virginia. It's clearly a major driver on the economy."
A stronger voice in the discussions about Metrorail does not end with the state legislature. Speaking with VDOT and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority as the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce will increase its political clout, Curtis said.
If adopted, the name change would be the chamber's second in the last six years, and the culmination of nearly half a century of progress for the Herndon and the entire Dulles Corridor, Curtis said.
While increasing the number of members is a goal of many organizations, that is not the main motivation for the change, she said.
"It is still us, but we've just redressed ourselves to give us a bit more standing in our advocacy efforts," Curtis said. "I think it's just a natural part of any group to gravitate towards its larger regional identity."
Connection researcher Eileen Keane contributed to this story.