Like every business and organization, the North Tampa Bay Chamber has faced challenges and unpredictability — in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
A public health crisis, government shutdowns and a flattened economy caused the chamber to pivot, and change the way it delivers services during 2020, so it could continue operations, while remaining safe.
It caused the chamber to shift to virtual operations, to begin offering meetings and webinars, and to provide assistance remotely — aimed at helping its members navigate through the pandemic.
Chamber leaders discussed the chamber’s response to the pandemic, during the organization’s annual business meeting held via Zoom on Dec. 1.
Kevin O’Farrell, the outgoing chairman of the board, said “we’ve really had to reimagine all of our events and our programming, our activities, to continue to push the organization forward.”
The pandemic, he said, has served as a reminder of “how important it is for individuals and organizations, in times of crisis, to truly double down on their values. I think, as a chamber, that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
He then detailed how the chamber focused on its four core values of integrity, innovation, inclusivity and collaboration.
“We had to be inclusive, bringing in new members and new individuals, to give us new voices, to make sure that we’re addressing all of the needs of all of our members — not leaving anyone behind, or on the sidelines, and working together in a collaborative fashion, so that together, we are the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.”
Hope Kennedy, president and CEO of the chamber, told members: “So, things changed. Everybody changed. But, what didn’t change was our focus. The main change that we had as an organization was our mode, in which we delivered the information to you, and the mode in which we were able to connect.
“We were still able to mark things off from our strategic plan this year. The committees were still able to come together, albeit virtually, and really nail down some of (the) things we had on our strategic plan for this year.
“We did continue some of our programming. We’ve been able to stay a trusted resource for our members throughout this year, using our digital component.
“Fortunately, for us, we were ahead of the curve.
“We had switched over to voice-over IP phones several years ago. Our database has always been in the cloud. Our website has always been in the cloud. So we were able to take the organization mobile, within three hours of the governor’s list of nonessential workers.
“We could have fought that and stayed open, but for the safety of our staff, we took the organization home,” Kennedy said.
Starting to go live again, in 2021
The chamber plans to begin bringing back some hybrid events in 2021, Kennedy said. That will start with a Final Friday event in January.
“We will be hosting those all at outdoor locations,” she said.
There also will be some hybrid, in-person events, beginning in February, including a Zoom option, Kennedy added.
“Obviously, our No. 1 priority as a chamber is your safety, and the safety of your employees and your businesses. So, we want to be sure that we are keeping you safe, as we all do business,” she continued.
Michael Berthelette, the new chairman of the board, talked about some goals for 2021.
The chamber will seek to provide visionary leadership — which involves developing human capital and partnership skills to solve business challenges, he said.
It also expects to roll out a mentorship program, most likely during the second quarter of 2021.
Plus, it plans to create a committee or subcommittee focused on diversity, inclusion, equality, social justice and human rights, he said.
And, the chamber will pursue accreditation from the U.S. Chamber, a goal it intended to pursue in 2020, but was sidetracked by pandemic disruptions.
“At the chamber, we come to work every day because we believe in the power of business as a problem-solver, and as a trusted partner, as a change agent and as a community builder,” Berthelette said.
He also raised the issue of systemic discrimination.
“COVID has shone a light on the systematic racism and inequalities across America, and across the world. COVID didn’t create those, (but) certainly exacerbated them.
“Staff of color should not carry all of the political risk of speaking up and carrying the flag of change,” Berthelette said.
He urged chamber members to act in support of others.
“Identify others whose voices might be marginalized, might not be having a privileged experience,” Berthelette said, and identify ways to support them.
“Let’s all engage,” he said. Expanding opportunities ultimately makes both companies and individuals, stronger, he added.
Kennedy reported that the chamber faced its own cutbacks, in order to remain in the black.
It experienced a decline in membership, too, she said, primarily caused by business closures.
“Those are things that we can’t control, and we’re going to do our best to help businesses that are struggling throughout this,” she said. “We’ll continue to find new and innovative ways that are going to bring you programming that’s going to help you grow your business throughout the year.
“Even if we’re not meeting in person, we’re still working for you. We are working in Tallahassee and we are working in Washington D.C., as well, to continue our pro-business legislation.
“While the mode did change, the mission did not,” Kennedy said. “We are still laser-focused on growing this business community.”
North Tampa Bay Chamber board
Chairman of the Board
Michael Berthelette: Platinum Salon
Returning board members:
Dr. Kevin O’Farrell: Pasco-Hernando State College – Porter Campus (outgoing board chairman)
Javan Grant: SLATER | GRANT
Aaron Banks: Furr, Wegman & Banks Architects P. A.
Connie Bladon: AdventHealth Wesley Chapel
Karen Tillman-Gosselin: Karen Tillman-Gosselin – Berkshire Hathaway Property Services
Stacey Capogrosso: Pasco Education Foundation Inc.
James Carner: Carner Credit Card Consulting LLC
Kartik Goyani: Metro Development Group LLC
Roberto Hiller: Signs of Tampa Bay doing business as Signarama New Tampa & YESCO Tampa
Justin Keeney: Regions Bank – Commercial Banking
Craig Alan Miller: Full Throttle Intermedia
Sally Seymour: Medical Center of Trinity
Troy Stevenson: Acme on the Go
Roberto Saez: Design and Construction Innovations LLC
Cheryl Visalli: Time For Wine
Stacey Nance: Sparkman Wharf
New board members:
Angelique Lenox: Vistra Communications
Tom Garthwaite: Morton Plant North Bay Hospital
Board secretary (non-voting)
Hope Kennedy: North Tampa Bay Chamber, president and CEO
Published December 30, 2020
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