With the merger of the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce and Gulfport Merchants Association into one new entity called the Gulfport Merchants Chamber (GMC), the goal is to “maintain business as usual with no dramatic changes” during the first year, said Scott Linde, GMC vice president.
Working together as a team and volunteerism were the main themes during the GMC’s launch party held Monday, July 23 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Gulfport’s Scout Hall, he said.
“The secret to our success is not the GMC board running everything but having key community members step up to the plate and volunteer,” said Linde.
Over 120 people attended the social gathering that offered free beverages along with a wide variety of savory and dessert food choices from 10 local restaurants and caterers. Beginning at 5:45 p.m. and lasting for about 30 minutes, speakers included Commerce Committee Chairperson Barry Rubin, who emceed; Linde; President Barbara Banno; and Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson.
In his speech while introducing Banno, Rubin said, “Barbara has been an avid and passionate supporter of Gulfport,” including as the owner of Stella’s restaurant, an advocate for the LGBTQ Resource Center at the Gulfport Public Library and as a former city councilmember. “She has earned the respect of those she works with and serves. I am confident that her leadership will drive this chamber to do great things for its members, for our community and for the visitors who come back to see us year after year.”
During an interview with the Gabber at the event, Banno said, “First, you’re going to see one organization doing everything that the two had been doing over the years,” said Banno. “We’ve opened up where the Gulfport Merchants Association (GMA) was just the waterfront area and the Chamber of Commerce was all of Gulfport. With the one group, I want to make sure that we engage all of the local businesses and community too. I want everybody to see us as one group, one cohesive team.”
Promoting synergy, engaging people and providing educational opportunities are Banno’s key goals.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “We have a lot of events that happen down at the waterfront and the reason we bring those events to this town is to support the local businesses. How can we do the same for the businesses in other parts of Gulfport like those located on Gulfport Boulevard South and 49th Street South? I really want to engage them and have them be a stronger part of our organization. We’re here to support them.”
People starting out in small business often struggle with things like social media or accounting, said Banno.
“We can offer workshops,” she said. “I’m really looking at ways that we can be creative and supportive and help our businesses around town.”
Said Mayor Henderson during his speech, “I’m so happy to see this organization come together as one. This has been talked about for years and once you decided to do it, you made it happen quickly and cleanly.
“This organization has the capability to be a unifying force in the neighborhood. It will be a much easier process having one organization working with the city and I look forward to seeing that blossom.”
To find out more about the GMC along with their volunteer and educational opportunities, contact members of the group through the Gulfport Welcome Center located at 3101 Beach Boulevard, Unit 1. The phone number is 727-344-3711.
The GMC is in the process of creating a website and a presence on social media, said Linde who is also the director of marketing.
GMC board members, in alphabetical order, are Banno, Camille Barbone, Mike Fagan, John Haugen, Linde, Vanessa Long, Tom Pitzen, Ken Reichart, Barry Rubin, Joe Soska and Kelly Wright.
“I’m excited about seeing Barb [Banno] move forward because she has worked really hard as vice president for both” the GMA and chamber, said Linde. “She was instrumental in pulling this merger together. And then, I’m looking forward to the even greater things we can do as a team versus separately.”