The North Tampa Bay Chamber recently was named the 2019 Chamber of the Year for the state of Florida during the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals annual conference in Daytona Beach.
The chamber was honored for its accomplishments, including its acquisition of two chambers within the past five years that led to its official name change and logo, as well as its involvement in numerous initiatives.
Hope Allen, president/CEO of the chamber said the award is a testament to the chamber’s board, its ambassadors, its staff and the area’s vibrant business community.
“This is something we’ve been working toward since I took over the organization,” said Allen, who joined the chamber seven years ago, when it was known as the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. “We had not been ready in the past because we did not have a strategic plan and we did not have an audit.”
But the organization achieved those goals and was able to apply for the honor this year, and proceeded to take home the top prize.
“We, essentially, as chamber professionals, build communities. This is validation that we are going, not only in the right direction, but we’re doing it extraordinarily well,” Allen said.
The application has nine different components, including such things as accomplishments, financial stability, governmental relations, membership, strategic planning, communications and special events.
In the area of governmental relations, for instance, the chamber had to describe its activity at the local, state and federal level, Allen said.
“We were able to speak to all of that,” Allen said, noting that she went to Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
“What I took away from that summit is, ‘global is very local.’ As leader of this chamber, we need to make sure we understand that.”
It’s important, for example, to realize that tariffs have a local impact, she said.
At the local level, the chamber has advocated for increased transportation options, and at the state level, it has pushed for lower business rent taxes.
“We have an issue filter, here. If it doesn’t align with pro-business legislation, we are not dealing with it,” Allen said.
Only chambers that have been audited can apply for the chamber of the year award, which, of course, requires a financial investment, Allen said.
“We came back with a clean audit,” the chamber executive said, noting that the audit covered not only budgetary issues, but also looked at employee records, crisis management, separation of duties, job descriptions and other organizational categories.
The state judges also consider a chamber’s strategic plan, its technology plan and its communications plan.
In the communications arena, the North Tampa Bay Chamber issues news releases, maintains a website, announces events, uses newsletters and varies its communications, based on the audience, Allen said.
For instance, “we have different messaging for potential members” than for existing members, she said.
The state honor also considers special events that are presented by chambers. That counts for 5% of the score, Allen said.
For much of its history, the chamber was “ very, very dependent on event income,” Allen said.
But in 2013, the board of directors decided to switch the chamber’s focus from presenting parties, pageants and parades’ to becoming the area’s connector, convener and catalyst, Allen said, during a recent talk about the chamber’s 20-year history.
That shift was a risk because it relied on investment by members, Allen said, but the organization was thinking ahead.
Now, the chamber focuses its energy on serving the business needs of its 739 members.
“We don’t sell the chamber,” she said. “The chamber is not something we feel is a widget. It’s an investment in your business. It’s a different pot of money from your branding and your marketing. It’s a business expense, in our opinion.
“Do you know who does sell the chamber? Our members. They sell it for us because they can see the return on their investment,” Allen said.
Published October 2, 2019