Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Business

New chamber looks to grow with Trinity, Odessa

Joe Alpine ran the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce for 15 years. Before retiring last January, he worried somebody might come along and start a competing chamber in the Trinity area, the county's hot corner where new businesses and good restaurants seem to spring up overnight around relatively expensive homes.

Turns out he was right — and in the middle of it all.

Two weeks ago, Alpine volunteered to help one of his old employees, Dan Sullivan, start the Trinity-Odessa Chamber of Commerce, which for now has a cubbyhole office in a business on Little Road that helps people overcome bad backs. They have 25 members and an impressive board of directors led by former County Commissioner Mike Cox, a Wells Fargo financial adviser.

Alpine says he no longer believes a new chamber will weaken the West Pasco chamber, which at last count had 986 members. "That's large enough,'' he said. "You get too big and you can't provide personal attention to your members.''

That conflicts a bit with a philosophy that 30 years ago led to the formation of the West Pasco chamber with the merger of free-standing divisions in Holiday, New Port Richey and Hudson. Business leaders championed strength in numbers, and small companies didn't feel compelled to pay dues to more than one chamber to benefit from referrals and networking.

Of course back then, cattle ran on the land we now call Trinity.

Alpine said now that the national economy has improved, the SR 54 corridor is going to explode with growth, all the way to the Suncoast Parkway and Odessa. Much of that territory, he insisted, will no longer be considered western Pasco.

His old chamber will not be damaged, he said, because it will still serve the most densely populated part of the county, the U.S. 19 corridor. It may be an aesthetic nightmare in places, but it also is home to several successful and remodeled car dealerships and other businesses that believe enough in the future to expand, such as Rooms To Go which recently doubled its space.

The highway itself is undergoing massive changes to make it safer.

Both Alpine and Cox likened the fledgling chamber with the one in Wesley Chapel, which started in the back of a florist shop and now has about 450 members. It has benefited from the success of the Wiregrass mall and the development in New Tampa.

Trinity residents seldom travel north. They can get to the Citrus Park mall easier than the Gulf View mall in Port Richey, and it offers far more shopping opportunities and amenities.

The West Pasco chamber isn't likely to give up on Trinity area businesses, and for a while at least, most of them will have dual memberships. "If the new chamber is a good idea, it will succeed,'' said West Pasco's executive director Chip Wichmanowski. "If not, it won't. Either way, we'll keep doing what we've always done for our members.''

He does, however, recognize the disadvantage.

The most dramatic example of shifting economics occurred two years ago when HCA shut down Community Hospital, which had operated since 1971 near downtown New Port Richey and moved into a sparkling new tower on SR 54. The name changed to reflect its focus and more prestigious address: Medical Center of Trinity. Naturally, support medical professionals took up residency nearby and the old campus in the city turned into a ghost town full of for sale signs.

Someday, perhaps with help from the West Pasco chamber and the county's Economic Development Council, the city will figure its way out of the problems the exodus created in lost tax revenue. But this is reality: People with money want to live and work in an area with all the shiny new buildings and bells and whistles.

The new chamber can best help its communities by carefully considering where they will be when the shine wears off.

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