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  1. Business

Wesley Chapel, Greater Pasco chambers of commerce merge

Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Hope Allen will lead the combined chambers of commerce announced Wednesday. The yet-to-be-named chamber will represent more than 850 businesses that currenlty are members of the Greater Pasco and Greater Wesley Chapel chambers.

LAND O'LAKES — Two chambers of commerce representing more than 850 business members from west Pasco to Wesley Chapel and New Tampa are merging into a single organization.

The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce, formerly known as the Trinity Odessa chamber, are combining, the groups announced Wednesday morning. The entity, still unnamed, will be headed by Hope Allen, president and CEO of the Wesley Chapel chamber, and will operate under that chamber's bylaws and organizational structure.

"We believe one united chamber is better positioned to work with local governments, economic development agencies and businesses looking to locate/expand in our community,'' states a consolidation resolution approved by the directors of both chambers earlier this month.

The new group reduces to five the number of chambers in Pasco County. West Pasco, Dade City, Zephyrhills and central Pasco — based in Land O'Lakes – also have their own chambers of commerce.

The Wednesday morning announcement at Land O'Lakes High School drew directors from both chambers, Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore and Pasco Economic Development Council president/CEO Bill Cronin.

"The Wesley Chapel chamber is in line with the same thinking as our board, and that is we need to be an organization that advocates for our members,'' said Mike Cox, chairman of the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce board of directors. "PEDC has targeted industries, and they do their job focusing on them. What chambers do is dovetail with that and help very well the businesses not in the targeted industries.''

CHAMBER MERGER: Chambers tried merging in 2016.

The combined chamber will be named following a marketing study, and the new identity will be voted upon by the members.

"We want to do it right,'' said Allen. "We want to have our members involved in the conversation and the community as a whole involved in the conversation.''

The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce was formed 19 years ago by educators and business representatives as a way to build an identity in the burgeoning area and to bolster school-business partnerships. It absorbed the New Tampa Chamber of Commerce in 2014. It currently has 612 members, including 160 in Tampa and Hillsborough County.

The former Trinity Odessa chamber rebranded itself as the Greater Pasco chamber last summer in anticipation of merging with the Central Pasco chamber, but that affiliation never came to fruition. The group in Trinity began less than four years ago and has 247 members.

After the failed merger with the Central Pasco chamber, the Greater Pasco group began an affiliation with the Wesley Chapel chamber in January, allowing small businesses the opportunity to join both chambers at a discounted price. About 15 have done so, and that became the genesis for the merger discussions.

Under the operating agreement, the Wesley Chapel board of directors will expand from 17 up to 24 members, with five to seven members of the Greater Pasco board joining. Both chamber offices will remain in operation ,with membership coordinators working out of the former Greater Pasco site in Lutz. The new chamber is now the largest in Pasco County.

BORDER WAR: Chambers clashed over mall site.

The merger leaves the Central Pasco chamber, which began 43 years ago as the Land O'Lakes Chamber of Commerce, in the odd position of sitting in the middle of the new, larger chamber's membership draw. The Central Pasco chamber has butted heads with the Greater Wesley Chapel chamber over the geographic designation of the area along State Road 56, just west of Interstate 75. That's where the Tampa Premium Outlets mall opened in 2015. It is designated as Lutz by the U.S. Postal Service, but businesses there market themselves as being in Wesley Chapel.

Cox, however, said he hoped the various chambers could work together.

"Quite frankly, we hope we have more working relationships with the other chambers as well,'' he said.