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New Bedford and Fall River business groups fight over ‘South Coast’ name

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Battleship Cove in Fall River.Pat Greenhouse

What's in a name? For a couple of regional chambers of commerce in southeastern Massachusetts, that question has launched a small-scale turf war.

The New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce is considering rebranding itself as the SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce. The move is not a done deal; the chamber says it has only committed to exploring the idea.

But the very notion has sparked outcry from a competing business group based in the region's other big city. The Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce is calling foul, arguing the name change would imply the New Bedford chamber has outsized regional influence.

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"For either the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce or New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce to unilaterally use the South Coast name is an affront to the other chamber's region," said Robert Mellion, chief executive of the Fall River chamber. "Fall River is just as much a part of the South Coast as New Bedford is."

The dispute came to light earlier this week, when the Herald News of Fall River first reported that the New Bedford chamber had reserved the new title through the secretary of state's office.

The proposed name carries some shared history for the two chambers. The groups considered a merger in 2006 before the Fall River group's board rejected the plan. But had the merger occurred, the combined chamber would have used the more regional "SouthCoast" title.

In the years since, the two groups have at times worked in partnership. They have written joint letters to public officials about issues relevant to the region's business community. They've also co-sponsored events such as an annual trade show -- called, naturally, the SouthCoast Business Expo.

Mellion said the Fall River chamber should therefore have equal claim to the South Coast name. Additionally, he worries that under the new name, the New Bedford chamber will try to recruit members from the Fall River chamber's membership.

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Rick Kidder, the CEO of the New Bedford chamber, said his organization has no plans to represent businesses from any communities where it is not already active.

The chamber represents businesses from 10 municipalities between Wareham and Westport. Those cities and towns may not represent the entirety of the South Coast region, but the proposed name change would reflect the size of the chamber's overall footprint, Kidder said.

Additionally, he said, as a private entity, his group has the right to adopt the new name if it would ultimately be in the members' best interest.

"There are businesses throughout the entire South Coast that call themselves 'South Coast X and Y,'" he said. "Those businesses are no different than us. We are a private entity whose sole purpose is to serve our members."

Also sensitive to the possible name change is New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. He would prefer the New Bedford group consider calling itself the Greater New Bedford Chamber of Commerce, emphasizing the city's role as "the gravitational center of this part of the state."

"Nobody refers to Greater Boston as Central-Eastern Massachusetts," the mayor said. "Nobody refers to Greater Providence as Northern Rhode Island."


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.