OLDSMAR — A couple of city leaders have expressed dissatisfaction with the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, saying the group needs to do more to reach out to local businesses and to connect with the community of Oldsmar as a whole.
Leaders from both groups met this week to talk about those concerns and to come up with a plan to strengthen their relationship. The city provides a home for the chamber of commerce in the City Council Chambers building. And it provides $15,000 annually toward the chamber's Business Assistance Program, which also receives funding from the county.
"What I'm telling you is you need to start cheerleading for the city because we cheerlead for you all," said council member Jerry Beverland.
Beverland, who called the meeting, said businesses aren't sure what the chamber does anymore.
Among other things, he and Vice Mayor Doug Bevis said they were disappointed that the chamber stopped putting out a print edition of its Oldsmar Community News about a year ago.
Bevis said he had been involved with the chamber for around 15 years and it's not the vital force it once was.
The chamber has "lost the energy, it's lost the fire, it's lost the spark, it's lost the identity," he said.
"Other than some of them, I don't even know who the board of directors are or what they do," Bevis said.
Incoming chairman Franklin Clark told city leaders their concerns are warranted because the group has been in transition.
"Over the past couple of years, we've struggled on the board with nothing but financial issues over and over and over again," Clark said.
And they've been trying to adapt to the changing business climate.
"The needs of the business community are changing," Clark said. "We're trying to figure out how to meet those needs."
But this year, Clark pledged, "that energy level will be changed."
As for the chamber's newspaper, the print edition cost $5,300 a month for layout, printing and postage. Clark said the chamber decided to discontinue the paper because it was a costly venture at a time when the chamber needed to focus on other important tasks to get and keep members. He said he'd be willing to revive it in the future if the chamber could come up with a more cost-effective way to do so.
The chamber has about 410 members in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Roughly 210 of the businesses are based in Oldsmar, said Jerry Custin, CEO and president of the chamber.
At one point, the meeting flew off track when council member Janice Miller railed against chamber leaders, accusing them of promoting a charity event for nonprofit Oldsmar Cares instead of helping the city.
Miller said she is responsible for asking local businesses to donate meals for people who participate in the city's Citizens Academy. And she's had difficulty recently because businesses were donating food to the nonprofit's gala instead.
Custin and others seemed confused by the complaint. He said the chamber, like the city, supports the nonprofit, which provides food and utility assistance for struggling families.
By the end of the one-hour meeting, the groups agreed to meet more regularly and to have a more open line of communication.
"The chamber and the city has not had the relationship it used to have," Beverland said on Wednesday. "I wanted to have the meeting so we could be on the same page."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155. Go to tampabay.com/letters to write a letter to the editor.