By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – The idea to create one Chamber of Commerce in St. Tammany Parish has been shelved, although the east and west Chamber groups still plan to collaborate on some projects that would be beneficial to businesses throughout the parish.
A recent study was commissioned by civic leaders in St. Tammany who created a Task Force to evaluate “what we want to look like in 20 years.” The result was a report called the Northshore Visioning Project that reviewed and recommended changes and direction for the parish on many fronts.
One of them was the idea of combining the East St. Tammany Chamber and St. Tammany West Chamber into one parish group, a collaboration of resources and staff that was generally recommended for some of the other economic development business groups in the region.
The report led to meetings between East Chamber CEO Dawn Sharpe and West President Lacey Toledano to consider the idea of creating a St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce. However, the pair concluded it is best to allow each side of the parish to have its own Chamber, although they will continue to work together on select projects during the year.
“There will not be a single Chamber,” Toledano proclaimed recently when questioned about the possibility of merging. “Dawn and I have worked well together for years on certain things, but the more we looked at the needs of each side of the parish we realized that we really do need two separate Chamber groups.”
Sharpe agreed that it was not in the best interest of the business communities on either side of the parish to merge.
“On the east we do a lot of after hour events and other things that our members want to have right here for networking opportunities on the east side,” she explained. “They do the same for their members in the west and if we tried to have one big, parish group I think we would not have had the same participation, or success, overall.
“The two sides of the parish are still very distinctly different and need attention separately,” Sharpe added. “So it’s really best to offer an east and west Chamber group.”
Toledano said their efforts to work together in Baton Rouge on legislation that would benefit St. Tammany businesses is one key area she and Sharpe will continue as they use the strength of both groups together.
“We definitely want to unite as one group for state issues, and when we go to Washington on federal lobbying efforts for our business community here,” she said. “So in some ways we are bridging the east and west gap to display one St. Tammany. But in terms of what each side needs during the entire year it will be best to keep our own organizations.”
In the report that compared the two Chambers they actually have four similar visions that include quality of life, networking, advocacy and economic development for the businesses and residents who live here.
The recommendation to combine the two Chambers was part of the Northshore Visioning Report that also looked at other economic development organizations in the North Shore region, including the St. Tammany Parish Development District, St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (STEDF), St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission, Northshore Business Council and Northshore Community Foundation.
The report noted that “the plethora of (economic) organizations in the region is a double-edge sword. The organizations contribute positively to the economic and community development, but the sheer number dilutes the resources” such as time, talent and money.
The report noted that the same companies are all seeking private funding from the major businesses in the area, pointing out that “funding for these organizations—approximately $500,000 annually comes from only 30 individuals and businesses.”
The report concluded that “corporate and industrial leaders have expressed frustration with the number of entities in the North Shore region who share the same or similar missions and expect the business community to step up with both financial and volunteer support.
“While they are concerned that their corporate dollars and their time is spread too thin, they are more concerned that the Northshore is missing opportunities to take on larger projects and initiatives.”