Greater Merrifield Business Association looks to the future

Billy Thompson, president of the Greater Merrifield Business Association, describes the group's succeses during the past year and outlines upcoming projects during a Feb. 13 luncheon. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

The Greater Merrifield Business Association (GMBA) is shaking off its low-tech past and ramping up efforts to connect with members and promote the community, president Billy Thompson said Feb. 13.

The association streamlined last year’s Fall Festival, which made money for the first time in five years, and now has committed to offering a breakfast or lunch and a mixer every month, Thompson said at his “State of the GMBA Union” speech.

“It was a great year,” he said. “I just think we’re really starting to realize some of the things that we can do in the future.”

GMBA was a volunteer organization for its first 33 years, but last spring hired Peggy James to serve as its paid executive director. (James holds the same post with the similarly named Vienna Business Association.)

“She’s brought us the tools, she’s brought us the energy, she’s brought up the things we’ve known but haven’t acted on,” Thompson said.

One of those tools was a vastly improved Website that keeps track of data and offers members free marketing opportunities, he said.

The organization is making its board larger, trying to diversify and get younger, Thompson said. GMBA leaders also plan to set up committees to focus on specific tasks, such as the Fall Festival, member benefits, public policy, non-profits and volunteers.

“If we’re going to grow, we need to be better organized,” he said.

GMBA is making the transition to the modern era, Thompson said. 

“We had an older-age demographic in the organization,” he said. “Not very many young people. Nobody had e-mail, nobody had Twitter. We were so far behind with the times and we were suffering from it. There are so many things that we do well, but we need the Millennials with us in this organization.”

Thompson encouraged GMBA members to take advantage of the association’s reciprocal memberships with the Falls Church and Greater McLean chambers of commerce and the Vienna Business Association. Members of all those groups may attend the others’ events and pay member prices, not the guest rate, he said.

Thompson also exhorted those present to patronize members’ businesses and said GMBA would focus on some specific issues, such as pedestrian safety and the need for playgrounds in the Mosaic District, and obtaining a separate ZIP code for Merrifield.

Another key priority: establishing Merrifield as its own entity separate from surrounding areas such as Vienna, Falls Church, Annandale, Fairfax and Dunn Loring.

“We have an identity crisis,” Thompson said. “We don’t know who we are.” 

GMBA began 33 years ago, when Merrifield was entirely industrial. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority hoped to build a massive depot there to park many Metrobuses and local landowners owners successfully dissuaded the transit agency from doing so. 

That group then formed the business association, which in the intervening decades has worked to shape Merrifield’s appearance and offerings.

“Location-wise, it couldn’t be a better place, especially if you have a business,” Thompson said, citing Merrifield’s proximity to Tysons, Metrorail and Inova Health System’s facilities.

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