CLEARWATER — Amanda Payne, chief executive of the former Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, is waging a battle in the war to rename local chambers of commerce.
First, a little background. When the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce announced they were combining membership lists, staffs, and missions in April, chief executive Carolyn Hague was the veteran leader of the regional chamber in downtown Clearwater.
Her counterpart, Beach Chamber chief executive Amanda Payne — a former West Virginia State legislator and vice president and chief financial officer of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce — had been at her post for just four months.
Hague honored for service
Hague was clearly overseeing the merger, which was in discussion before Payne and her husband moved to Clearwater from West Virginia. When the smoke cleared on Oct. 1, Hague had stepped down and Payne was in charge of merging the two Clearwater chambers — which had been combined and renamed “Amplify Clearwater,” marking the first time since its founding in 1922 that the word “Chamber” would not be in the organization’s name. Staff now divide their time between the downtown and the beach offices.
Amplify honored Hague, a talented and respected mentor to businesswoman and a veteran chamber leader, by naming the AchievHERs “Woman of the Year” award after her. Hague helped found AchievHERs to support Clearwater businesswomen.
Hague and other professional women held their first meeting in 2013 at Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns on Chestnut Street in Clearwater, where Hague managed the large, full-service law firm. They had common issues to discuss.
“We started AchievHERs over a box lunch in the kitchen at Johnson, Pope, just a dozen of us, to find ways to push hard for younger women professionals, to provide positive female role models for success,” Hague said. “Over my 40 years in professional life, I would see female professionals who could not keep up with the pace because they’d been marginalized or forced to quit because they had children, for instance.”
Hague explains the meaning of the AchievHERs motto, Women Sharing Wisdom: “With AchievHERs, women know they have access to women who will help build them up and guide them.”
Hague worked at a law office for 18 years before joining Johnson Pope for 22 years. Not only that, but she was an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College for 35 years. She is ready to take a breather.
“I’m not retiring yet, just taking a little bit of time to exhale,” she said.
Hague will mentor professional women and other members involved with Amplify, Payne said.
What’s with the new name ‘Amplify’?
Why remove the words “Chamber of Commerce” from the time-honored business group’s name? Payne said she and staff were thoughtful about the rebranding.
“We kept coming back to, ‘The Chamber of Commerce is an antiquated term, founded in the Year 1599 (in Marseilles, France), when merchants of all trades came together to engage in commerce,” Payne said. “That’s how old the term is.”
‘Amplify’ reflects action, not staid antiquity, she said.
“My encouragement to the Amplify board was, ‘Let’s think out of the box, let’s be progressive,’” Payne said during a Nov. 5 interview in the beach Welcome Center on Poinsettia Avenue. “If you are asking me to build a dynamic organization, give me a dynamic brand. Don’t name me the Clearwater Area Chamber of Commerce and I have to overcome my brand to explain how dynamic the organization is.”
And so, Amplify Clearwater it is. The Amplify tagline, however, invokes the original name: “One Chamber. One Community. One Vision.”
The Amplify Clearwater theme is supported by four pillars of program work, Payne said:
• Experience Clearwater, which includes Clearwater visitor centers, and chamber community events like the Chalk Art Festival and Taste Fest that draw people to the beach. It also includes Clearwater Jolley Trolley agreements, hotel/motel guides, “everything that touches tourism,” Payne said.
• Envision Clearwater, designed to engage business owners with Imagine Clearwater, parking, downtown signage, and other downtown improvements. The program also includes loosening investment money downtown. “I’ve had businesses tell us they’ve wanted to purchase property downtown, but lenders have been hesitant to lend or take risks on properties,” Payne said. “I see Amplify being very engaged in the next 12-14 months, setting vision and a course from an economic development standpoint.”
• Engage Clearwater, a chamber — and now, Amplify — staple. Business roundtable breakfasts, Chamber Friday lunches, business ribbon cuttings, as well as business after-hours mixers and other networking events. Amplify held a minimum wage forum on Nov. 7 and plans a Pre-Legislative Holiday Breakfast on Dec. 4, an Outback Bowl Beach Day on Dec. 30, a New Year’s Eve Fireworks display, and a Jan. 15 Gala Celebration at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach.
• Educate Clearwater, designed to foster connections with business schools, business owners and creating a pipeline between graduates and job opportunities. It includes workforce development and other efforts.
How Tampa Chamber shook Payne’s world
On Oct. 10, more than a week after Payne and her staff announced Amplify Clearwater, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce announced — beginning in December — it would be calling itself the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Adding the word “Bay” may seem unimportant to the uninitiated, but Payne, Tampa business organizations, and chambers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties cried foul.
In Payne’s opinion, the Tampa chamber is improperly painting itself as a regional chamber by adding “Bay” to its title. After all, Payne had just removed “regional” from the Clearwater chamber’s name to better reflect its focus on the beach city.
“We are trying to amplify our own brand,” she said. “The Tampa chamber does not represent the bay region,” she said. “We were fearful it would create confusion in the marketplace. While we all work together on regional issues, (each chamber) has unique issues that concern its members.”
The Tampa Bay Times editorial staff agreed the new name misses the mark.
“It’s understandable that some folks in Pinellas and Pasco counties aren’t thrilled and wonder whether this is misleading advertising that could undermine regional cooperation and confuse businesses looking to relocate to the area,” the Oct. 20 editorial said.
Payne is also upset that she only learned about the name change when staff texted her the news. She is disappointed that Greater Tampa Chamber chief executive Robert Rohrlack didn’t tell her about his rebranding in advance. After all, they talked all the time.
Payne, Rohrlack, and St. Petersburg Chamber chief executive Christopher Steinocher have lunch once a month to discuss issues of common concern. When they lunched Oct. 22, Payne told Rohrlack that he should have given her a head’s up.
“Friends talk to each other,” Payne told the Beacon. “We didn’t think it was the right move, but at least we could say we had the conversation, so we could be aware of it. But they never said, ‘Hey, our caucus came up with this branding initiative.’”
Tampa Chamber will proceed with name change
The day following the lunch, she sent a letter to the Greater Tampa Chamber board of directors.
“We hope you stop to consider the law of unintended consequences if you move forward with the rebrand name,” she wrote the board. “You will break the trust that has been carefully woven together over many years at a minimum.”
Rorhlack said his organization will adopt the new name in spite of opposition.
“Representing our membership requires us to think regionally and act locally,” he said. “Locally, regionally and globally, Tampa Bay has become a term for the region that is well-known and accepted. We stand on a 134-year foundation of being the financial center of our region ...”
It is not known how the standoff will end, but the future of Amplify seems to be strong. It enjoys a fat membership list that includes small family businesses; car dealerships along U.S. 19; telecom companies like AT&T, Spectrum, and T-Mobile; hospitals, physicians, and assisted living facilities; software and computer businesses, family owned restaurants and beach businesses; and hotels and motels of international renown.