2006-05-17 / Business

Chamber celebrates grand opening of Suburban Solutions Center

by VICTORIA R. SPAGNOLI Associate Editor

The Amherst Chamber of Commerce's Suburban Solutions

Above, Chamber President Colleen DiPirro, third from left, talks with several representatives from other local chambers of commerce and the media about the Suburban Solutions Center during it's "sneak peak" tour Thursday, May 11. At left, local business people enjoy some networking opportunities at the center's grand opening Monday, May 15, at the Amherst Chamber of Commerce at 350 Essjay Road. Above, Chamber President Colleen DiPirro, third from left, talks with several representatives from other local chambers of commerce and the media about the Suburban Solutions Center during it's "sneak peak" tour Thursday, May 11. At left, local business people enjoy some networking opportunities at the center's grand opening Monday, May 15, at the Amherst Chamber of Commerce at 350 Essjay Road. Center is starting to prove its worth to small businesses.

The center celebrated its grand opening on Monday, but has been already providing small businesses with needed infrastructure and training for the past few months.

The center, which is used frequently, offers meeting rooms, developed products and services for local businesses and suburban Chambers in Erie County.

On Thursday the Chamber held a "sneak peak" tour of the center for local media and business officials.

"We know all of the Chambers in Western New York have struggled for years," Colleen DiPirro, Amherst Chamber president, told the small group gathered in the new center.

These organizations, she said, had to take stock of the services they were providing and look to see where they wanted to go in the future - what they wanted to be.

The Amherst Chamber faced some diverse challenges, she said. There are more than 7,000 businesses in a town that is larger in square footage than the City of Buffalo.

So Chamber officials took an in-depth look at the organization and, DiPirro said, asked themselves one important question: Did they want to be "a little Chamber that does typical Chamber stuff" or meet the demands of what their small business customers wanted?

Officials knew, by talking to small business members, that many were facing the same problems: staying up-to-date with technology; feelings of isolation because there was very little interfacing with other business owners; and downsizing infrastructure in order to save money.

Their solution? Expand operations for members and other Chambers through the Suburban Solutions Center.

"We want this center to be a hub," DiPirro said. It's not just for businesses in Amherst, but members of other Chambers as well, she explained.

The center is a state-of-the-art operation offering small businesses and start-ups a centralized, cost-effective facility where, for a small fee, they can access the latest technology, resources and training. The center also provides meeting space.

It is designed to fulfill many of the basic, often expensive, needs of a small growing business.

The Amherst Chamber is a suburban Chamber with a regional vision - officials do not want it to become a regional Chamber. DiPirro said she hopes other Chambers of Commerce in the region will promote the resources of the Solutions Center to their own members.

"Our goal is to be the conduit to collaboration and access for services," said DiPirro. "We will work with all existing Chambers of Commerce, trade associations, education institutions and others to offer the tools necessary to grow the wealth and prosperity of our individual businesses and region as a whole."

DiPirro is confident the center will quickly outgrow its new space by the end of the year. She also expects to see a Southtowns version of the center in the future.

DiPirro emphasized that the new Solutions Center is not an attempt to "steal" members from

other Chambers. She wants the Chambers to work collaboratively. Working together is the only way Chambers will remain viable, she said.

"Can the region benefit from it? I think so," DiPirro told the group. "There is a void in the marketplace for small business."

The Suburban Solutions Center is located at the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, 350 Essjay Road, Suite 200, in Amherst.

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