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Two chambers of commerce joining forces

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Two South County chambers of commerce this week are launching their consolidation.

By Melody Jameson

RUSKIN — Backed by the enthusiastic support of their memberships, leaders in two South County chambers of commerce this week are launching their consolidation.

A 10-person transition team – involving an equal number of representatives from the Ruskin and the Apollo Beach chambers – was set to begin the process of integrating the two business groups at mid-week, according to Greg Conley, current AB chamber president.

Their endeavors – expected to continue through the year – come on the heels of balloting by each membership last week which lit an emphatic green light for the merger. Once completed, such a unification could produce a South County organization drawing business operators from Big Bend Road to the Hillsborough-Manatee County Line between Tampa Bay and I-75, more than 400 voices strong.

While the two groups number their individual memberships in the same general range, the vote to proceed with the consolidation was heavier in Apollo Beach, based on a final count Friday, May 20.

Support for action by the AB group’s board of directors on a Letter of Intent executed recently by leadership in the two chambers came from a substantial number of the total AB membership of about 220, Conley said. About half of the membership voted and, of that number casting a ballot, a “fairly overwhelming 93 percent” favored proceeding with the merger proposal, he added.

Among the Ruskin chamber membership, the ballot language was different but the intent and result the same. About 75 of that group’s 250 members agreed that four seats on the chamber’s 15-person board of directors should be designated for Apollo Beach members as they are vacated, said Melanie Morrison, the Ruskin group’s executive director. Nearly all of those expressing a view – 73 – supported the by-laws change allowing for the consolidation, she added.

However, the board seat allotment, while serving to consolidate the two leaderships, merely enhances the balance between Ruskin and Apollo Beach business entities already represented on the board, Morrison noted.

Beginning this week, the transition team will be considering for recommendation to the two leaderships a number of consolidation matters which heretofore have been individual chamber responsibilities, Conley said. Over time, these discussions necessarily will include such subjects as location of the new organization’s office operations, integration or consolidation of office staffs, any changes to dues structures deemed useful, handling of the chambers’ regular networking functions, priority of fund raisers and decisions related to the two group’s websites, he indicated.

At present, both chambers maintain separate offices in their two communities. The AB group has two paid staff members and Ruskin has three. Each hosts networking functions for its memberships and each fields annual fund raising events for the public.

Conley said he could foresee continuation of some yearly activities while others may be combined into a single event. For example, he cited the AB chamber’s popular Manatee Festival of the Arts continued just as the annually anticipated Seafood Festival and newly organized Pigs in the Park functions, undertaken previously by the Ruskin group, also continue to be held.

On the other hand, he added, there may be only one “Southshore Mayor” race conducted annually and a single golf tournament sponsored by the new group each year. The AB chamber president added he did not foresee any radical alteration of the membership dues structure.

“These are things we have to figure out,” Conley said, adding “ and what’s done in the short term may not be the long term decision.” In an open letter to his membership, the AB president also cautioned that although their support gives impetus to action on the two group’s Letter of Intent, it “does not mean this is a done deal” yet.

The aim, Conley said, is to settle by July 1 the major basic issues arising from merger of the two groups into a single entity given the working title, The Southshore Chamber of Commerce.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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