When Jesse Bernstein became president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce in 2006, it had between 1,300 and 1,400 members–a figure he aimed to double: “My goal was to get to 2,800 to 3,000 members as quickly as possible.”

Then the economy tanked. “Pfizer left,” Bernstein says. “The auto industry was hit hard. We took gut punch after gut punch.” Membership was down to about 1,100 when Bernstein stepped down last June, and the budget had fallen from about $1 million to roughly $900,000.

And that, more than anything, explains why in January the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti chambers merged. Diane Keller, former Ypsi chamber president and first president of the joint body, calls the merger “as fine an example as you’ll ever see of the invisible wall of US-23 coming down.” That’s true–but the deeper impetus was that the groups could live together or die alone.

The Ypsi chamber, too, lost members and revenue in recent years. Keller estimates the combined group will have about 1,500 members, with a budget of around $1.2 million. And the merger should lower costs.

“We’ll streamline services,” says Keller. “We won’t need two phone systems, two copiers, and two postage machines.” She says they’re also “looking to sublease” the Ann Arbor chamber’s floor in the KeyBank building at Main and Huron. The Ypsi office is too small, however, to support both staffs, so any future location of the merged chamber is unclear.

As for reducing or eliminating duplicate staffs–currently eight in Ann Arbor, four in Ypsilanti–Keller says “we’re looking at re-organizing. There are a couple of people in Ann Arbor who have left recently, and we may not replace those positions.”

The biggest savings, though, will come off the top: Keller absorbed Bernstein’s job into her own. Neither will say what Bernstein earned. But during a brief search before the merger was announced, the position was advertised at a salary of $85,000 to $100,000 a year.