Chamber works to shore up home area
© St. Petersburg Times
NORTH TAMPA -- In the days following the end of World War II the group of people first got together in Sulphur Springs.
They wanted to start a fire control district, but a key state senator could not come to the meeting.
They formed a chamber of commerce instead.
Over the years it did what most good chambers do. It rolled out the red carpet for big employers, like Honeywell and Reynolds Metals. It helped celebrate Tampa's centennial. It put up street signs, ran the Sulphur Springs Pool for a while and tried to rescue the area's now-defunct shopping arcade.
Times changed, and so did the North Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
While Sulphur Springs ceased to be a hub, a new business district stretched along Fowler Avenue, Fletcher Avenue and Busch Boulevard.
"There are 33,000 people employed in North Tampa, many of them -- the great majority -- in small businesses," says president Mark Albrechta.
The chamber promotes those businesses to the world at large, mostly through its Web site, www.northtampachamber.com. But technology has not robbed the chamber of its small-town feel or its rich sense of history. Nor is it confined geographically. Members come from as far as Palmetto, Plant City and New Port Richey.
Albrechta, 46, makes his home near Northdale, though his two sons attend the International Baccalaureate program at Hillsborough High School.
This is his second stint as chamber president. He joined in the late 1980s for the same reason most people join chambers of commerce -- business contacts. He had just left a job at the public defender's office and was starting a civil law practice. "A friend at church mentioned it to me," he said.
Beyond the business benefits, Albrechta, a onetime Eagle Scout, views chamber work as a form of public service, "a way of giving back."
Volunteers from the North Tampa chamber go into public schools to help children learn to read. They honor star students. They award a full-scale dress saber each year to an ROTC student at Hillsborough High's graduation.
And every month they recognize law enforcement officers for acts of heroism.
This month's decorated deputy was James Moffitt, a 25-year Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy who busted up a high-end car theft ring, recovering $500,000-worth of cars.
"I enjoy any time I get recognition for my job," Moffitt said of the July 11 event. Even more, he appreciated being able to get his message out to business managers.
"It's good when people can come to the sheriff's office, knowing what we are capable and willing to do for them," he said, "not just when a crime is in progress, but with a long-term, complicated problem."
He and Albrechta know the challenges North Tampa's older neighborhoods face.
Employers complain of a dearth of skilled workers. The schools have been known for poor performance on state tests.
Sulphur Springs and surrounding neighborhoods can't hold a candle to the spanking new suburbs of New Tampa, or even the historic districts of Seminole Heights and Ybor City.
Hence the need to shore up what they've got.
"You have to work at keeping these businesses viable," Moffitt said.
"It takes tender, loving care, but that's what they need. When you have businesses, you have jobs, with jobs you have security. And with security, you have a better living environment."
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