A merger between the Apollo Beach and Ruskin-SouthShore chambers of commerce came one step closer to becoming a reality last week when a majority of available members voted to proceed with the proposal.
The merger would create one, unified SouthShore Chamber of Commerce with about 400 members.
"We would now be an entity that essentially represents businesses from Big Bend Road south to County Line Road and over to Interstate 75," said Greg Conley, the president of the Apollo Beach Chamber.
The Apollo Beach Chamber approached the Ruskin-SouthShore Chamber with the idea of merging a few months ago, Conley said.
"We had been looking at ways to increase our value and increase our reach and exposure in the whole SouthShore area," Conley said. "We were able to accomplish a lot of our goals by simply moving forward with the merger."
More than 50 percent of Apollo Beach chamber members voted. Ninety-three percent of those votes were in favor of the merger. Twenty-five percent of Ruskin-SouthShore members cast votes, 97 percent of whom agreed to merge. The vote enabled the Apollo Beach Chamber to act on a letter of intent signed by both chambers.
Now, directors from both chambers will meet to work out the details, such as staffing, integration, finances, facilities and board representation, Conley said. They expect to complete the merger by July.
For business purposes, the Ruskin-SouthShore Chamber, with its board intact, will absorb the Apollo Beach Chamber, said Joel Meek, the president-elect of the Ruskin-SouthShore Chamber. Because of the chamber's building lease, this route was preferable, Meek said.
To ensure it's a merger and not an acquisition, the next four openings on the board will go to Apollo Beach members, Meek said.
Members will pay only one fee for the combined chambers, using the Ruskin-SouthShore Chamber's lower fee schedule. For those with membership in both chambers, dues already paid will be credited to use on future fees.
Though there were concerns among some members that a merger would cause either community to lose its identity, boards of both chambers are not worried.
"This is not going to become one big Ruskin or one big Apollo Beach chamber," Conley said.
There are still civic associations and other things to create a civic and community feel, both Conley and Meek said.
Instead, combining the chambers will help businesses grow because many draw customers from both areas, Meek said.
Conley pointed out that the new chamber could also profit by drawing more members to its ranks.
The chambers have attempted to merge in the past, but it didn't work out. This time around, it just seemed right, leaders from both groups said.
"We'll be more of a force in bringing businesses here and residents here as well," Conley said.
While the chambers will not officially merge until later this summer, Conley said he doesn't envision any problems arising before then.
"We don't expect there to be any show stoppers," he said. "But the bottom line is, that until we sign the merge papers, it's not a done deal."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.