The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County has downsized its office in an effort to save money, a move that comes on the heels of a chamber reorganization put into motion in August and the potential sale of the organizations Benner Commerce Park.
Among those let go were former CBICC Vice President Jean Gerber, who was responsible for membership benefits, recruitment and retention, program development, marketing and communications. Another downsizing victim was Elaine Morgan, a part-time receptionist who managed the front desk.
Gerber, who also was the executive director of the Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce from 2001 to 2005, could not be reached for comment.
We have a great chance to attract and keep businesses, but we were not immune to the recession of 2008, said CBICC President Vern Squier. We resized the office. I wont get into financial fanaticals, but were saving money by doing this for greater financial efficiency.
The decision to restructure was announced at a luncheon Sept. 11. Squier said the measure also will help the chamber adapt with the changing business community, which he said is growing and becoming more diverse.
Two examples he gave were the growth and change of the health care industry and expansion of the University Park Airport, which announced direct flights to Chicago OHare International Airport last month.
Weve been dealing with more than ever in terms of volume in the community, Squier said.
Squier would not comment on who would take over Gerbers and Morgans responsibilities. Before the cuts, Squier said the chamber employed five full-time employees and one part-timer. Squier said he does not foresee salary cuts nor furloughs.
We said publicly many times that were dealing with the impacts of the recession and adapting to the needs of the community, Squier added. We need to adapt to financial realities and live up to our mission statement.
That mission statement is To promote the well-being and growth of commerce, business and industry, while striving to maintain a high quality of life in Centre County.
Squier would not elaborate on financial nor personnel matters as he said it was privileged information; however according to GuideStar an Internal Revenue Service-registered online information service regarding nonprofit companies in 2011, the most recent fiscal year that was reported, the chambers total revenue was $909,668, while total expenses equaled $5,974,409.
Squier was not available for further comment.
The CBICC announced in the spring that it would reorganize as it adapts to the changing business community, Squier said.
The first change came at the end of March, when the CBICC announced it would sell Benner Commerce Park in Benner Township to investors Heidi Nicholas, owner of Nicholas Enterprises; Bob Poole, CEO of S&A Homes; and SilcoTek Head Coach Paul Silvis.
In April, CBICC spokeswoman Betsy Dupuis said the chamber was carrying several million dollars in debt from the business park that was expunged when the land was sold. She said the lots in the park were slow to sell due to a struggling economy, and the group wanted to put the park into the hands of people more experienced for its purpose.
At the time, Silvis said that he, Nicholas and Poole purchased the park for about $3.3 million.
The chambers new plan of action provided to the CDT by Squier includes reducing the board of directors, holding more frequent meetings and focusing on economic redevelopment.
The board of directors was cut from the maximum 29 voting members to a maximum of 18 voting members, Squier said. Before the reorganization, there were 25 voting members on the board, he added.
Additionally, the board will hold monthly meetings instead of every other month.
Meeting frequency allows us to better target business needs and discuss them more regularly, said Ted McDowell, CBICC board chairman. It shows our commitment to the community and the chamber from the board.
Squier added that there could be nonvoting ex-officio members included on the board. Those on the board hold unpaid positions, Squier said.
The 19 current members are:
• Squier, a nonvoting member;
• McDowell, AmeriServ regional president;
• Dupuis, an attorney at Babst Calland;
• Tim Boyde, Centre County administrator;
• Steve Brown, Mount Nittany Health president and CEO;
• Dave Capperella, Capperella Furniture owner;
• Tom Fountaine, State College borough manager;
• David Gray, Penn State senior vice president for finance and business;
• Bill Joseph, First National Bank of Pennsylvania senior vice president;
• Tom Kearney, First Energy Corp. area manager;
• Cristin Long, an attorney at McQuaide Blasko;
• Leanne Martin, M&T Bank administrative vice president;
• Mark Morath, Hospitality Asset Management Co. CEO;
• B. Michael Schaul, WHM Group president;
• John Sepp, PennTerra Engineering president; and
• Brad Scovill, Kish Bank president and chief operating officer.
The board restructuring and reduction was based on a combination of factors, McDowell said.
We wanted to provide continuity of the change in the business industry and keep those who were actively involved and to add new members who can represent certain industry clusters that were adding, McDowell said.
He said a goal was to keep the boards restructuring transparent.
We had presented this reorganization structure to the board, and they all approved it, he said.
The chamber also will focus on three primary components of economic development: entrepreneurship; retention and expansion; and recruitment, which Squier called the three pillars of business that the chamber believes are the core components of bringing business into the county.
Squier said that the changes would allow the chamber to better serve the needs of its members and investors while strengthening its economic development program. He explained that the original pillars were more broad in terms of how to bring and maintain business in Centre County. The chamber narrowed them to target the specific areas that Squier said puts more focus on important business matters.
The CBICC revamped and added to its existing committees including: corporate communications, marketing, recruitment, entrepreneurship, retention and expansion, regional economic development, small business support, municipal managers, workforce development, business environment, infrastructure, membership development, events and air service.
We believe we will get more productivity this way by building on those committees and identifying the three pillars, Squier said. When we talk about productivity, we talk about actually doing it.
Squier said to reassure the business community that the chamber is invested in its needs, the chamber is holding more private and public seminars. This, he said, comes with allowing some members of the business community who he called experts in the field to be a part of the chambers committees.
Those who are a part of the committees are not required to be a part of the board, Squier said.
Although the board is smaller and committees have been reorganized, the chamber has a larger volunteer-based business group that works with it, Squier said.
The CBICC also is working with state and local representatives on macro policies.
We want to know what is going to impact us locally, Squier said. If we know that, we can work with how those mandates, policies or programs impact the business community.
Sam Kerns, CFO of Mission Critical Partners Inc. in Port Matilda, said the business has been a CBICC member since 2009.
Annually, Mission Critical Partners pays $235 in dues to the chamber, and Kerns said he thinks it is a good investment as the chamber has gone out of its way to help the company.
I think even with their new structure, theyre doing a good job and have promising hope for bringing more business to the area, Kerns said.
He said the chambers reorganization did not affect Mission Critical to a major extent, but said six weeks ago, a health care seminar was held for the company where experts discussed changing medical plans.
Dorsey Houtz, president and CEO of Avail Technologies, said his business is a local member that helps support the CBICC. It has been a chamber business member since 2000.
Ive seen them take good strides. I think its going to be an uphill battle, but I think the changes were necessary to show their investment in the community, Houtz said.
The CBICC will continue to change with the needs of Centre County businesses and continue to live up to the chambers mission, Squier said.
In terms of our reorganizations, the major terms have been done, the major pieces have been accomplished, but I dont think well ever stop changing completely, he said.
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.