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Chamber strives to help businesses succeed

Published February 15, 2004

When the Hedick Group wanted to expand its real estate office along Commercial Way in Spring Hill last year, it went knocking on the door of its neighbor, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.

Could the chamber move along? Please? Just farther along in the same Colonial Park strip complex?

Because the chamber's mission is to help businesses grow, the organization was delighted at the success of one of its nearly 1,000 members. The chamber gladly obliged and packed up.

While vacating its own space to accommodate a member is unusual, the chamber increasingly is the resource to which small businesses turn when they have a need, face a problem or want an issue addressed.

For example, a member might want help in hiring or upgrading its workforce, need a liaison with government or yearn for a less costly health insurance plan.

The chamber has addressed all those subjects and more in the past year, said executive director Jacqueline Morris, and is continuing those pursuits in 2004.

Added board president Dudley Hampton, manager of the Brooksville unit of Coca-Cola Enterprises: "I do think that the direction we're going as a chamber body is to be more responsive to the needs of our members. Although it's been great in the past, we just want to be as user-friendly to the chamber members as possible and help them be successful in Hernando County, especially the small businesses."

Expanding on the chamber's accomplishments, Morris said: "Our business assistance committee is doing more workshops and seminars, almost monthly last year, probably escalating this year."

As an example, she noted programs for individual businesses that need continuing education certification for entrepreneurs and employees.

Said Hampton: "I think the primary goal this year is to continue to help businesses and, hopefully, working in conjunction with government and other organizations to continue to bring clean industry and professional jobs to Hernando County."

"We're also looking at what we can do to enhance the workforce," Morris said, ". . . working with Pasco-Hernando Career Central and more partnerships in the county that benefit the workforce."

A Career Central kiosk was installed in January in the chamber's office at 4044 Commercial Way. A Career Central touch screen is being added at the chamber's Brooksville office at 101 E Fort Dade Ave., and a Career Central link has been added to the chamber's Web site.

Insurance is another big issue.

"We've been researching insurance for our members - that's an issue ongoing throughout the United States - and we're working with the Florida Chamber of Commerce (on that issue)," Morris said. "We need it for the mom-and-pop businesses."

On another front, Morris said, the chamber's government affairs committee is looking at the possibility of appointing a a liaison to be the eyes and ears of the chamber with several other associations.

Also, she said, "We'd like to promote more development as a voice of the business community."

And, the businesses keep moving into Hernando County.

The chamber's member services director, Pat Crowley, helped 55 new businesses with grand openings last year. An additional 45 members expanded their operations.

Of the approximate 950 member businesses, most have fewer than five employees, Crowley said. The chamber tailors its services to those businesses, Morris said, while the Hernando County Office of Business Development puts its energies into attracting and aiding manufacturing and industrial enterprises and major employers such as Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Home Depot and the chain restaurants. But the large businesses' employees also provide customers for the small businesses, so the chamber needs to keep abreast of the county's total business base, she noted.

The chamber is en route to a relocation as well.

Its building committee is searching for land for a new central headquarters, Morris said. A new building, for which a fundraising campaign has not yet begun, would provide more space for the chamber, as well as incubator space for new businesses and rental offices.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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