By RANDALL P. LIEBERMAN
Palms West Monthly
Posted May 1, 2012
Some could argue that the newly formed Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce – which officially launched Feb. 27 at a luncheon with more than 200 guests at the Poinciana Country Club in Lake Worth – is a sign of the times.
“What a historic moment for us all to be a part of,” Chamber CEO Jaene Miranda announced at the luncheon. “We are observing today a celebration of new opportunities – it’s symbolizing an end to what we have known for 28 years at the Palms West Chamber and 100 years at the Greater Lake Worth Chamber. More importantly, it’s a new beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change.”
Change may be exactly what was needed after Beth Johnston resigned as executive director of the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce last May, following on the heels of the chamber’s board firing her predecessor, Tom Ramiccio, in December 2009.
By the time Johnston left her position, the Lake Worth Chamber was down to one staffer – office manager Nadine Burns – and its membership ranks had declined from a high of about 490 members in 2009 to approximately 402 members before the merger.
Meanwhile, the Palms West Chamber of Commerce had been expanding in spite of the rough economy, increasing from about 720 members in 2010 to 780 last year.
According to Miranda, she suggested to her board that it could benefit the membership of both the Palms West and Lake Worth chambers to consider a merger.
An initial exploratory meeting was held in July, followed by an “intent to merge” contract signed by both organizations in October. Initial plans had the actual merger set for January, but both chamber boards approved the final merger agreement in February. A transition team comprised of members from each chamber then carried the merger through to its completion.
“The merger will allow for economies of scale, which will in turn allow for investment in the infrastructure to improve operational efficiencies,” said Carmine Priore III, who was chairman of the Palms West Chamber and will serve as chairman of the new chamber. “It also will allow for an investment in technology that will improve communication and an investment in human capital that will improve customer service.”
The new chamber sports nearly 1,200 members in 15 incorporated municipalities and is geographically the largest business chamber in Palm Beach County, covering central Palm Beach County from the Glades to Lake Worth, and from Palm Springs to West Palm Beach. The chamber encompasses 40 percent of Palm Beach County in an area that stretches from the western sugar cane fields to the coral reefs in the Atlantic.
“It does not matter whether you were a member of the Palms West Chamber or the Greater Lake Worth Chamber – or maybe both,” said Rick Tourville, who was chairman of the Lake Worth Chamber and is a board member of the newly formed organization. “The bottom line is that this merger delivers benefits to our new organization and its members that would not have been realized as individual entities.”
The new chamber will keep both of its offices open, giving the Central Palm Beach County Chamber an eastern and western presence. Phone lines are in the process of being combined, as are the membership lists, with a new Web site due to be rolled out in July or August. Right now, the Web sites of both of the old chambers are being individually maintained.
Monthly networking opportunities will basically double, as the chamber will keep a monthly luncheon out west, a monthly breakfast back east, as well as networking events in the west and east.
This will probably lead to members having to choose between the events closer to them, said Stella Suarez-Rita, an attorney who was a member of the Lake Worth Chamber. “I can’t make the events out west, so I do hope the events will balance out between east and west,” she said.
All of the major events both chambers used to put on annually will still take place except for the Lake Worth Chamber’s Hispanic Fest, which was very similar to Palms West Chamber’s Salsafest.
All in all, Tourville believes the merger is a good deal for all 1,200 Central Palm Beach County members.
“Our member businesses will have the opportunity to increase their networking and marketing opportunities anywhere from 50 to 200 percent while keeping their original investment the same,” he said.
For more information about the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, call (561) 790-6200 or go online to cpbchamber.com.