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2019 was year of transition for chamber

January 8, 2020
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

It was certainly a year of transition for the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. Among the big issues it faces is how it will continue to serve its businesses in the future.

President John Gardner, who took over for Al Giacalone in the summer, immediately sought to change the way the Chamber does its business with what he called Chamber 2.0, where it will revive and revise the Chamber.

"We're looking to change up what we do and how we do it to keep ourselves and expand our relevancy in the business community here," Gardner said.

Gardner said there will be an overall revision. He saw what Chambers used to do and has to decide if that is still relevant in 21st Century America, with its social media and electronics.

"Websites and apps and all that. Is that where we need to move for our businesses and consumers? We are going to do an annual directory, but there will be an electronic version on our website," Gardner said.

Gardner said he does not want to go the way of Kodak or Blockbuster, companies that didn't stay up to speed with their customers' needs. He said he needs to find out exactly what Chamber members need.

"Whether it's advocacy or help with marketing, all of that is on the table," Gardner said. "We are all shifting our focus on the relevant things. Very few businesses continue to send mail, so our newsletter is electronic."

The new year will start with a membership drive in the first week of this month, which will allow new members to be in the upcoming directory, which will print following the drive.

The chamber also is working on a new benefits program for members, reaching out to them to see what they need and what they're willing to give.

There will also be a program where they will work with Marco Office Supply, which can provide all office supply needs to area businesses with next day delivery since there is no such place in North Fort Myers since Office Depot closed.

Last year included another successful Calvin Peete Classic golf tournament, despite it being pushed back a week by rain, and the Taste of North Fort Myers, which Gardner said he will take a second look at to see if it's still relevant.

"We hope the Calvin Peete will remain a namesake. The Taste is being rethought. It will have to be rebranded because we found most of our member restaurants have the ability to go offsite, so it's been a struggle," Gardner said. "With the advent of the food truck, that's not what the taste has been."

While the Taste has not been scheduled for 2020, Gardner is bringing back the Celebrity Waiter event, which has been done of and on for years.

Also in 2020, the Chamber will hire an executive director, which they haven't had since Chris Jackson left. They tried to use the board of directors for several years to try to maintain it, but Gardner said it is not the board's responsibility to run the chamber while running their own businesses.

"There's a lot going on in North Fort Myers. We would like to get some of our old members back. Some businesses have changed hands and organizations have agreed to step up," Gardner said. "Otherwise, we grow stagnant and I don't like stagnation."



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