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Chamber merger has financial edge

Three SouthShore chambers of commerce could more than double their combined net income if they agree to merge, according to a study by their members.

"The feasibility of (a consolidation) is possible," said Ray Weedon, president of the Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce. "Now, the decision has to be made if it is desirable."

The Apollo Beach, Greater Riverview and Ruskin chambers commissioned a 12-member committee to explore combining the three to maximize their profits, enhance networking and increase their presence in the community.

Sun City Center was asked to join the merger, but chamber leaders there declined, said James Adcock, chairman of the consolidation feasibility study committee.

With the three remaining chambers on board, the study committee spent months reviewing finances, membership and organization structures. They presented their findings to the chambers' boards of directors in July, detailing how things may change if the merger goes through. The report paints a theoretical picture and is not a list of formal recommendations to the chambers, Adcock said.

If one of the three chambers votes against the consolidation, the entire deal dies.

The biggest advantage of a combined chamber would be more revenue for chamber projects. Based on the study, combined projected net income would total $19,152 this year without a merger. If the chambers vote to consolidate, the study predicts a future combined net income of $48,955, a 61 percent increase.

"There are a lot of good things coming out of this study," said Jody Whitmyer, secretary for the Apollo Beach chamber. Still he urged people at a Sept. 21 workshop about the merger to "get the facts before you make your final vote."

Whitmyer questioned whether "big business" was behind the consolidation, threatening to silence the voices of SouthShore small-business owners.

"A potential merger would help the small businesses more than the big businesses," said Christine Smith, president of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce.

More than 80 percent of the three chambers' memberships are small businesses, said Ron Proulx, president-elect of the Riverview chamber.

"We've got a sense of community, and the small businesses represent that community," he said.

The study committee used February membership numbers for their assessment, which showed 684 members among the three chambers. Apollo Beach had 240 members; Riverview had 197, and Ruskin had 247. A merger would eliminate dual memberships, producing about 642 members, according to the study.

If approved, signs of the merger may be seen as early as Jan. 1. Adcock said the transition period would be complete by July 1. Five members from each chamber would be elected to the board of directors for the combined chamber. Those 15 members would then select a president, and a site for their new home.

Ballots have been sent to members of each chamber. A decision should be made by the end of October, Adcock said.

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