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Chamber reaches out to replenish ranks

The Largo/Mid-Pinellas group seeks at least 100 new members, even offering a money-back guarantee.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published March 6, 2005


LARGO - Membership in the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce has been holding steady.

But in the past few years, the chamber hasn't seen a lot of growth.

Chamber leaders are hoping a monthlong membership drive, Largo Chamber Quest, will change that trend and help the chamber achieve more of its goals in the organization as well as the community.

"We haven't had a membership drive in a couple of years. It's very important to grow the chamber and have (members) get involved in different committees and organizations," said membership drive chairwoman Arlene Walker Kaslander.

Chamber endeavors include networking opportunities, partnerships with local schools, government advocacy for local businesses, and a boost of economic progress in Largo and unincorporated mid Pinellas.

"Our voice is a lot louder in our numbers," said chamber president Tom Morrissette.

Since its inception in 1952, the chamber has blossomed from its original 14 members to as many as 650.

For the past few years, membership has hovered around 500.

This month, the chamber hopes to broaden its membership by at least 100.

Fluctuations in membership follow natural business cycles, Morrissette said, and many chambers met additional challenges after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"A lot of businesses were pulling back where they were investing their dollars," he said.

Leon Cassels, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said he's not aware of membership trends in regional chambers today.

"The economy is strong. The local chambers are faring pretty well. If chambers are holding their own with new members equaling any attrition, it's not a bad thing," he said.

Beth Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she meets with other chamber executives nationwide and sees that membership numbers often reflect current challenges facing individual businesses, especially small ones.

Morrissette has experience in boosting memberships. For 15 years, he worked as communications and technologies manager for the Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce in Massachusetts, which grew from from 900 to 4,300 members.

To facilitate a phone-a-thon for the Largo/Mid-Pinellas chamber's membership drive, he called on the expertise of a man instrumental in the Worcester chamber's growth, its former membership director Patrick J. Hoey.

Hoey now serves as president of Sales Development Associates, which specializes in helping organizations and chambers.

"He's a huge ball of enthusiasm. He knows chambers, he's an educator and will teach members the fine points of how to close the deal," Morrissette said.

On March 14 and 15, chamber members will call prospective members, who were sent cards detailing incentives for joining in March.

Annual business memberships start at $225. Incentives include a 14-month membership for the price of 12 months, a free insert in the Chamber Connections monthly newsletter, a free listing in the chamber's 2005-2006 Membership Directory/Buyers Guide and buy-one-get-one-free advertising from the Largo Leader. The chamber will also waive a one-time $25 administration fee for those who join by cash or credit card.

Morrissette said he's so confident new members will be satisfied, the chamber will offer a 90-day money-back guarantee for those who take advantage of three chamber events in their first three months.

"If they don't like what we're doing in our chamber, we'll give them their money back," he said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorri@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 6, 2005, 00:14:20]


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