PALM HARBOR – Steve Fiske wasn’t happy with how things were being handled at the chambers of commerce in the area, several of which he belonged to. They were ignoring local attractions like the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and failing to help out-of-town visitors, focusing instead on their own members, he said.
In 2012, seven chambers of commerce served the North Pinellas area: Clearwater Beach, Clearwater Regional, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and the Upper Tampa Bay Regional. But Fiske didn’t think any of them were doing enough.
“No one chamber was coalescing and pulling the area together as a region,” he said. “One entity could serve as a promotional arm and also a conduit to pull all of these groups together.”
So, Fiske started the North Pinellas Regional Chamber of Commerce, serving businesses from Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to Tarpon Springs.
“We have a number of folks who have had a lot of chamber experience, some in different geographical areas,” he said, “and we felt that North Pinellas was a market that could be promoted as a larger geographical, all-encompassing area.”
Currently, nearly 160 businesses belong to the North Pinellas chamber, including Billy’s Tarpon Turtle and Danny’s Restoration and Cleaning.
“This is really a grassroots chamber, and it’s succeeding because of the energy of the leadership,” said Marcus Eddy, co-founder of Path 2 Water Group and member of the chamber. “We have a belief in helping small businesses and entrepreneurs get a leg up in the area.”
By the end of September, the chamber’s one-year anniversary, Fiske said he expects to have reached 200 members.
“We’re one of the fastest growing chambers in the country, and it’s because we try to work for the small businesses,” said Bob Pictor, owner of Pictor Marketing Solutions and publicist for the chamber. “We pride ourselves on trying to educate people on how to grow their business.”
Fiske also said he has worked to increase attendance at chamber luncheons, beyond major events including town hall meetings and Taste of Pinellas.
“We’re pulling close to 40 people whether we do lunch at Ballyhoo’s in Tarpon Springs or Carrabba’s on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard,” he said. “A lot of our members thought it wasn’t worth it to leave their business unattended for an hour to meet with the same nine or 10 people they see at each event with other chambers.”
The chamber has also experimented with varying meeting times to better suit its members, rather than the once-a-month breakfast that many local chapters employ.
“How does a single mother running a business make it to coffee at 7:30 in the morning?” Fiske said. “We want to make our events when business people can actually come.”
Fiske, who ran a national advertising and public relations company for nearly 25 years, said he believes in doing research and asking people what they want.
“If you ask around, the marketplace will tell you what they need,” he said. “If you listen, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.”
For more information on the North Pinellas Regional Chamber of Commerce, including membership prices, go to www.northpinellas