The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce is one of just 16 business associations nationally – and the only one in Connecticut – to make the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s most recent class of accredited organizations.
The New Haven chamber received accreditation with four stars, one shy of the highest honor. The local chamber was the only one in the Northeast to receive accreditation in this round, according to a press release from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Chamber.
Since the accreditation program’s inception in 1964, 850 of the nation’s 7,000 chambers of commerce have been honored through the program with accreditations that last five years before coming up for renewal. Following the latest round of selections by a special committee and finalized by the U.S. Chamber’s board, the Greater New Haven agency is one of just 206 chambers with the accreditation, putting it in the nation’s top 3 percent.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled we are by this,” said Tony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven chamber, which has its offices on Chapel Street in New Haven not far from Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital. “It’s a wonderful recognition but we’re not resting. We’re working hard to maintain a high standard.”
Only three other New England chambers, all based in Massachusetts, currently have the accreditation, said Rescigno, who has been Greater New Haven’s president for the past 16 years. Although Greater New Haven has been a longtime member of the U.S. Chamber, this year was the first time it had applied for the accreditation, he said.
The process involved submitting a binder nearly two inches thick, containing supporting documents that took six months to compile. Rescigno was interviewed by telephone several times by U.S. Chamber staff.
“They want to know everything about your operation,” he said.
Organizing an annual science fair in partnership with the New Haven city government for the past nine years, an effort that involves raising $100,000 and recruiting 150 volunteers, was among the programs cited by Rescigno in discussing reasons for the accreditation. Others include the chamber’s leadership programs for senior and mid-level managers as well as speaking to government officials in Hartford and its member towns.
“We advocate for business in a very robust way,” Rescigno said.
Of Connecticut’s 70 chambers of commerce, Greater New Haven is one of only eight to have U.S. Small Business Administration personnel on site, he said.
“They work directly with the individuals,” Rescigno said. “We’re very happy to have that service available.”
The Greater New Haven chamber dates back to 1794 when it represented the maritime shipping interests of 26 New Haven businessmen before the national government, according to information on the chamber’s website. Today, it represents business owners and interfaces with political leaders in Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, Orange, Wallingford, West Haven and Woodbridge.
The accreditation is a fitting tribute to the chamber and its staff, said Robert Santy, president and CEO of the Rocky Hill-based Connecticut Economic Resource Center.
“The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce has been a great partner with CERC in building capacity of their member towns to grow the regional economy,” Santy said. “We are not surprised that they have been recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their outstanding governance and the growth of the economy.”
The chamber’s membership has increased from 900 members 15 years ago to 2,000 today, Rescigno said. That includes the 2012 acquisition of the Wallingford-based Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce, he said. Greater New Haven has members in 10 other states and two foreign countries.
At 10,000 members, the state’s largest business organization is the Hartford-based Connecticut Business and Industry Association, but CBIA is not considered a chamber of commerce. It is a “professional services organization” based on the large number of member services it provides, spokeswoman Meaghan MacDonald said.
Following accreditation applications that can be made three times per year, entrants must demonstrate quality programs, clear organizational procedures and effective communications, said Erica Flint, spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber. Areas that are examined include governance, finance, human resources, government affairs, program development, technology and benchmarking, she said.
In congratulating Greater New Haven and other recent recipients, Flint said the purpose of the U.S. Chamber’s program is to “facilitate continuing excellence in the chamber industry and foster a pro-business environment across America.”
Other Connecticut chambers have received the honor previously, Flint said, although she declined to name them. She declined to say how many Connecticut chambers may have been reviewed during the latest accreditation round.
“It is really up to the leadership at the respective chambers as to whether or not they apply for accreditation or seek a renewal,” Flint said. “Additionally, when chambers go through the process they are given feedback on their program and how they could achieve accreditation in the future or receive a higher rating.”
The comments could result in future filings, she said.
“The process is not just a recognition but also a tool to help the chambers think about how they can strategically plan for the future,” Flint said. “The program is always changing and we are always evaluating our benchmarks to make sure they are relevant.”
The accreditation doesn’t help chambers better serve their members, said Diane Nadeau, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Inc., Windham Region, based in Willimantic.
“It has no bearing,” she said. “You must also be a member of the U.S. Chamber and therefore your policies must be consistent with theirs.”
Flint declined to say how many Connecticut chambers belong to the U.S. Chamber.
The process is open to non-members, according to the U.S. Chamber’s website. Applications include filing fees of $1,199 for non-members and $699 for members.
The U.S. Chamber dates back to 1912 and represents more than 3 million businesses. Under the leadership of Tom Donohue, a former Fairfield University administrator who has been chamber president for nearly 20 years, the group has become one of the strongest lobbying organizations in Washington, D.C.