The crowd gathered at the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce listened as presentations were to honor local officials and volunteers.
The crowd gathered at the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce listened as presentations were to honor local officials and volunteers.

At the entrance to the ballroom of Villa Christina, Arthur Freeman beamed as he looked across the room at the nearly 200 people chatting, sipping wine and eating hors d’oeuvres as a bright, early spring sun set behind the windows.

“You hear that?” he asked. “That’s buzz.”

Freeman, the executive director of the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, was pleased by the turnout at the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural reception on March 14.

Community leaders, business people and elected officials from Brookhaven, Dunwoody, DeKalb County and a few state legislators gathered to celebrate the organization’s official debut.

“I think of it as a debutante ball, our coming-out party,” Freeman said.

Freeman hopes to keep that buzz going as the organization looks for members and starts new programs and initiatives in the community.

The chamber, which has signed up nearly 40 members so far, already has a host of programs and events planned for its first year.

Freeman said the chamber has plans for a “listen and learn educational series,” monthly networking events, speakers every two months, a “chairman’s circle luncheon” for business leaders and city officials to talk about issues, two yearly

galas and six general membership meetings. “Not bad for nine weeks,” Freeman said of the young organization’s progress.

About three months ago, the chamber evolved from the Brookhaven Community Connection, a networking group for Brookhaven business people. Freeman said the chamber had the advantage of building on its groundwork.

“My board of directors that I came out of the gate with in December was the board of directors from the Brookhaven Community Connection,” Freeman said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to do it. It looks like it’s only been nine weeks, but the reality is, it’s been four years.”

Like the BCC, the chamber of commerce will not be limited to for-profit businesses. Freeman said civic associations and religious groups are invited to join, as well.

While Freeman realizes that businesses may have inherently different interests than homeowners groups at times, he sees the chamber as an organization that can help solve conflicts.

“That’s one of the reasons I want them at the table — so you can have a neutral place to work these issues out,” Freeman said.

The Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce will be joining what is already a thriving business community in the Perimeter area. The Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and the Perimeter Business Association are all within just a few miles of each other.

Tom Mahaffey, executive director of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, said he sees the addition of the Brookhaven chamber as beneficial for the region.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. We’re a close community and region, and we work together as a region,” Mahaffey said. “Sandy Springs and Dunwoody have been very connected since the inception of both chambers. I don’t see why Brookhaven would not join with us.”

He doesn’t believe a new chamber will be a threat to any of the existing organizations. “I don’t think it’s going to affect our investors or membership base. Each of us will have our own base of companies we will partner with,” Mahaffey said.

Joe DeVita, the founder of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce, has also been helping the Brookhaven chamber get started. DeVita said the Brookhaven chamber will be able to work jointly on regional efforts with other chambers in the area.

“Economic development is something you don’t do in a bubble. It’s a regional effort and it takes regional partners,” DeVita said.