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Black chamber touts new attitude

The group vows to make its third year a charm, after two years of organizing and dealing with personnel problems.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Gwen Washington, chairwoman of the board of directors of the St. Petersburg Area Black Chamber of Commerce, declares that it is a new day for the group now in its third year.

Washington became chairwoman in January but said she had previous commitments that took away her time during the first two months.

"I'm now truly on the job," Washington told the group at its monthly meeting last week.

"We have a new attitude. We have a new executive director. We have a new office, and we have a new parking lot. Downtown was not as easy to find a parking spot."

One of Washington's priorities when she took over was to move the chamber out of the Northern Trust Bank Building downtown and into a less expensive office. The chamber moved to the Dot.com Center at 1950 First Ave. N on March 1. The new space is more than twice the size of what the group had and, at $400 per month, about half the cost, Washington said.

The chamber's first two years were spent organizing and dealing with some personnel problems. Two executive directors left in less than favorable circumstances. Washington is ready to move on, and she wants chamber members to get something tangible for the dues they pay.

"This year, we will really make a difference," Washington said.

The chamber's Web site, now under construction, will have a community bulletin board, a listing of members and their services, a calendar of events, and a free-form area for posting notices. Advertising space will be available, and some of the revenue gained from it will go back to the chamber.

The chamber is looking for new opportunities for African-American entrepreneurs. Lorian Williams, the new executive director, identified the tourism and hospitality industry as one ripe for African-Americans. She said African-Americans are not well represented in management ranks of the hospitality industry, especially in Pinellas County.

Williams said that can hamper tourism for the community in general.

"One thing meeting planners look for is representation. More and more minority entities are looking to do business (through conventions and reunions) with people who look like them," Williams said.

The chamber is staging an African-American Focus on Hospitality and Tourism mixer and showcase in May during national tourism week. St. Petersburg Junior College's hospitality management program will be featured, and African-Americans are urged to consider the industry.

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