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And then there were 4: Chambers of commerce for west, central Pasco plan merger

Sign outside the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce in downtown New Port Richey.   DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2013)
Sign outside the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce in downtown New Port Richey. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2013)
Published Mar. 5, 2019

The chambers of commerce representing more than 1,000 businesses in west and central Pasco plan to merge into a single group.

The boards of directors of both the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously Monday to move forward with consolidation.

"It's a great opportunity for both. We're both sitting on opposite sides of a huge growth area," said Greg Armstrong, chairman of the board of directors for the West Pasco Chamber. "Instead of fighting over members we'll be fighting for the members.

"We used to be separated by 10,000 cattle, and we were two distinctly different economies, two distinctly different people. Now, the cows are almost extinct, and there's virtually no difference.''

The combined chamber, which has not been named, would become effective July 1. Tim McClain, who has been serving as interim president and CEO of the West Pasco Chamber, is expected to drop "interim'' from his title and lead day-to-day operations of the merged organization.

If all goes according to plan, Tim Sherrell, chairman-elect of the West Pasco Chamber, will assume the chairman's duties for the new group on July 1. Elayne Bassinger, president-elect of the Central Pasco Chamber, would become chairman of the board in 2020.

"This is not a done deal. We're investigating and doing due diligence,'' said Les Saland, president of the Central Pasco Chamber's board of directors. "If this comes together, the benefits to Central Pasco members and the geographical area we encompass is that we will be expanding not only our business opportunities, but we will have greater resources for businesses, other marketing opportunities, and we will have a bigger voice for (members') concerns.''

The planned merger comes nearly three years after the Central Pasco and former Trinity Odessa chambers flirted with the idea of consolidating, but backed away after questions about governance.

The Trinity Odessa group then changed its name to the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce and merged in 2017 with its counterparts in Wesley Chapel to become the North Tampa Bay Chamber.

The West Pasco Chamber has been in flux with the recent departure of two staff members — Liz Misemer, events and marketing coordinator, and former president and CEO Elizabeth Juffin, who left in February after just eight months on the job. Currently, McClain is the west Pasco group's only staff member.

The West Pasco Chamber incorporated in 1964, according to Florida Department of State records. The group in central Pasco began a decade later as the Land O' Lakes Chamber of Commerce, but rebranded itself as the Central Pasco Chamber in 1998 to better represent the region it served.

To allow each area to maintain its geographic identity, one potential idea is to have separate councils for west and central Pasco under the umbrella organization. The West Pasco Chamber operated under that system decades ago when it maintained separate chamber councils for Holiday and Hudson.

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A consolidated west and central Pasco chamber would compete with the North Tampa Bay Chamber for members along the high-growth State Road 54 corridor. However, the combined group could be well positioned to capitalize on the future growth that is expected to push northward toward State Road 52.

If the merger is finalized, the number of chambers of commerce in the county will be reduced to four: Dade City, Zephyrhills, North Tampa Bay and the newly consolidated group.

"We've got a lot of work to do in 119 days,'' said Armstrong, noting the groups must complete due diligence, settle on a name, incorporate with the state, and devise a master calendar to avoid duplication or conflicting events.

"I think we'll come to the conclusion that it all works out to everyone's benefit and that it becomes a win-win for everyone involved,'' said Saland.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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