Membership has its privileges.

Small-business members of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce now will enjoy full membership benefits -- advocacy, business tips, discounts, you name it -- from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The local chamber recently inked a deal with the U.S. chamber's new Federation Membership program, an effort by the national organization to increase its membership base beyond its 100,000 dues-paying businesses by adding members of more than 100 chambers across the country.

Here's how it works: Small businesses pay the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chamber dues of about $330, and they automatically become members of that chamber and the U.S. version.

"We give them the ability to make more money, save more money and keep more money for themselves," said J.P. Moery, senior vice president of the U.S. chamber. "We provide them with about 10,000 pages of tips and tools on our small-business Web site. We show them how to make more money. We show them how to hire people."

The new members also become eligible for discounts on shipping and office supplies.

"These tools are developed by leaders who understand the needs of small business," said Ginanne Italiano, president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chamber.

The partnership extends to advocacy, as well. The U.S. chamber is expanding its ranks of smaller companies that can lobby locally on national issues. And the local companies now have a national organization to lobby on behalf of their interests.

"If there's a national issue and they need support and it falls within our legislative agenda, then we can support them on it," Italiano said.

More Condos in Rockville

Condominium conversions are piling up in the county.

Approximately 3,500 units either are slated for conversion or have already been converted, according to the Montgomery Newsletter, which tracks real estate developments in the county and recently added another to the list: Avalon Crossing in Rockville.

GMAC Institutional Advisors and the Meridian Group bought the 132-unit apartment community for more than $40 million late last month.

The complex was attractive because it is near the intersection of Rockville Pike and Montrose Road, just a short walk to the White Flint Metro station. The buildings are on five acres of land in a parklike setting. The complex features 62 private garages, 186 parking spaces, a pool, clubhouse and fitness center.

Bonuses at Digene

The two top executives at Digene Corp., a Gaithersburg biotech firm that makes a test for a virus that causes cervical cancer, have been granted cash bonuses of more than $340,000.

Evan Jones, the firm's chairman and chief executive officer, got $189,500. Charles Fleischman, Digene's president and chief financial officer, was granted $153,000. Six other officers got bonuses totaling $472,000.

Digene is scheduled to release its fourth-quarter and year-end earnings results today. United Therapeutics, a Silver Spring biotech firm, gave its officers sizable bonuses last month and then released quarterly results that far surpassed analysts' predictions.

Marriott Promotes Two

Marriott International Inc. of Bethesda has promoted two executives to senior positions within Marriott ExecuStay, its corporate housing division.

John Fenton, a veteran employee of the hotel chain, was promoted to vice president for sales and operations. He had been regional director of Marriott Global Sales, overseeing offices in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.

Elizabeth Karp, currently ExecuStay's general manager for the Washington region, has been promoted to director of operations.

Marriott purchased ExecuStay in 1999. It operates in 45 U.S. cities.

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