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The Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce today launched its annual membership drive, which official hope will bring in about 1,000 new members and raise $260,000 in dues.

The chamber is refocusing its activities away from broad-based marketing programs and toward business development and small-business needs. Chamber President Kevin D. Keeley said he hopes the changes will make the group more attractive to potential members.

"We want to concentrate on helping small businesses thrive and grow," he said.

In the past, the chamber's annual membership drives generally have not resulted in a significant increase in the group's membership base, mainly because old members tended to drop out as fast as new members signed up.

But with the local economy improving, businesses will have more of a stake in the chamber's activities, such as lobbying legislators and helping companies take advantage of the free-trade agreement with Canada, Keeley said.

"We're confident that this year it's going to represent growth of our membership base, rather than simply replenishing it," Keeley said.

Edward T. Hunt, vice president and general manager of New York Telephone, is the chairman of this year's month-long membership drive. Last year, the campaign signed 1,200 firms as new members, bringing the organization $276,870 in dues.

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