During the early years of the creation of The Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce, they hired the Technical Assistance Office of University of New Mexico to conduct a study. Although the Technical Assistance Office was hired to do a concise plan that covered many aspects of chamber functions, one criterion regarding the differences in chambers seems significant. The Technical Assistance Office contacted several other chambers in San Diego, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, etc., and these are some of the results.
There exists in America two types of chambers. One is considered traditional and the other is considered alternative. Although the differences may vary quite a bit at times, the survey disputes the issue that two chambers cause problems for communities. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Two chambers can increase the value of their communities because of their differences.
Traditional chambers, such as the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, have been in the United States since the second half of the nineteenth century; though it is likely they existed informally before that. Traditional Chambers of Commerce can be characterized by their motivation to address the business and commerce related concerns of the membership. The membership and activities are usually focused on a specific geographic or political area. Though the activities of these chambers often extend to the regional and national level, through the United States Chamber of Commerce and Chamber Associations, chamber activities are primarily related to local issues having an impact on the immediate membership. In many cases the Chamber of Commerce operates closely with (or as) the local economic development department, as well as providing the fundamental benefits to its membership. Activities of traditional chambers include aiding in industrial and business relocation, providing relocation information, facilitating personnel relocation, and promoting tourism.
Traditional chambers take an active part in government affairs, including endorsing pro-business candidates, and will help to promote industrial recruitment to their area. This approach assumes that more business is better business, and that recruiting major employers from other places will benefit their membership by creating business opportunities. Traditional chambers will generally endorse tax incentives, state-run training programs, industrial revenue bonds and other incentives to recruit business from outside the area. This activity places the traditional chamber in the role of defacto economic development department.
The primary difference between the alternative and traditional chambers is that along with definition by geography, alternative chambers, such as the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce, also define themselves by ethnic, historical or cultural characteristics. Alternative Chambers co-exist well in regions that have a traditional chamber.
The goals of the alternative chambers differ greatly from the traditional chambers. These differences manifest themselves in the adaptation of different agendas. Like most traditional chambers, the agenda of alternative chambers is defined by their membership and sponsors. Although membership and sponsorship in most of these chambers are not restricted to the group identified in the chamber's name, the agendas of these chambers are directed at addressing issues that are immediately affecting these communities.
In many cases, alternative chambers are organized to strengthen a specific population's economic, political and social standing in a system that is viewed as presenting limited potential or posing significant hurdles. Examples of alternative chambers include Hispanic, African American, Asian, and American Indian. The activities and strategies of the alternative chambers reflect the differences in membership. Because of different populations and socio-economic compositions of their memberships, many of the alternative chambers surveyed view themselves as facing social and economic issues different from those faced by traditional chambers. The agendas of alternative chambers address more specific issues as reflected in this chambers' more specific membership.
In most of the alternative chambers surveyed, the agendas stressed concerns related to small and existing businesses. Efforts were focused on the survival of these businesses and/or promoting their expansion. This approach favors principles of "sustainable economic development" over "growth", an approach that is gaining popularity in main stream economic development. Sustainable economic development is an approach that emphasizes the central role of local resources and populations. It promotes investment in the development of the local skill and educational base, and emphasizes the central role of small and locally owned businesses
One of the primary differences between the alternative and traditional chambers appears to be their selection of activities. This difference is more than a difference in the priorities of different chambers: it is a predictable outcome considering the difference in membership bases. Traditional chambers seem to emphasize networking opportunities, and have some involvement in community functions. Alternative chambers seem to emphasize community involvement and have few activities that are designed to accommodate networking. Both types of chambers promote tourism as a means of promoting their community. These are some additional differences not addressed by the survey. Traditional chambers still adhere to a long established format. Alternative chambers work with new ideas and stay abreast of the small business market. Traditional chambers are usually funded with 80 percent of tax dollars, (usually funded by the city) and 20 percent memberships. Alternative chambers work with little or no tax dollars and are usually funded only by its members and sponsors. Traditional chambers usually have a large budget with well-paid executives and are well staffed. The majority of alternative chambers work with one executive director, one or no additional staff and many volunteers.