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Chambers try merger on a smaller scale

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The Ruskin and Apollo Beach chambers of commerce are aiming for merger.

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Citing potential to “work together towards one common vision,” the Ruskin and Apollo Beach chambers of commerce are aiming for merger.

In an emailed notice to membership of the recently-renamed Ruskin -Southshore Chamber of Commerce, Patti Thornton, current president, announced the pending merger Monday. Thornton’s announcement included request for approval by the Ruskin membership of a “one time modification” of the organization’s by-laws to “allow the next four board of director seats to be open to current Apollo Beach chamber board members.”

Her email also noted “This comes to you upon a unanimous vote from your board of directors.” The Ruskin chamber board consists of 15 members.

Neither Thornton nor Greg Conley, current president of the Apollo Beach organization, responded to calls from The Observer Monday.

Thornton’s message to her membership acknowledged Apollo Beach and Ruskin as “very unique communities” and suggested that “moving forward we will be a stronger group.”

This proposed chamber merger is not the first time such a move has been initiated. Several years ago, merger of the South County’s four community chambers – Apollo Beach, Riverview, Ruskin and Sun City Center - was studied by the various groups and recommended by three. The SCC chamber bowed out early in the discussions, pointing to its membership’s strong connections with the somewhat different business climate in a large retirement center. Ultimately, in votes cast by members of the three others, the proposal was rejected.

Since that time, the four separate chambers have focused attentions on developing individual programs for their members and creating various fund raising activities – some of them unique to their communities, others very similar. Apollo Beach, Riverview and Ruskin each field annual honorary mayor’s races, for instance. The Sun City Center chamber hosts a formal weekly networking luncheon while the other three have conducted evening as well as morning get-togethers at members’ business establishments. Each currently is housed in its own headquarters and each maintains a website.

The Apollo Beach chamber website lists a roster of about 200 members. The Ruskin group’s website does not publish a comprehensive membership directory accessible as a single document. Many South County business entities routinely maintain memberships in three or four of the chambers, reasoning that their markets exist throughout the region rather than in a single community.

Merger of the two chamber groups opens the door to unanswered questions dealing with such matters as any potential for a new name recognizing the two communities, office location or expansion and separate or consolidated website maintenance, disposition of any paid personnel, dues changes, adjustment of missions to meet needs of two business centers and annual event sponsorships.

Noting that “we …act as a conduit for business referrals to our members,” the Apollo Beach organizational missions, according to its website, involve promoting “a favorable climate in our area for our membership,” interacting with other organizations and providing business leadership recognizing needs “of the Greater Apollo Beach Area.

The AB chamber’s yearly events have included the Manatee Arts Festival and a kite flying exhibition. Ruskin each year sponsors a seafood festival as part of its annual calendar, this year adding “Pigs in the Park,” a jazz music and vendor show.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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