SHARON, Pa. – The decision to focus on membership rather than fill the open executive director position is working out well for the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce, says the board president.
In June, the chamber announced that it had hired Jim Bombeck of Hermitage, Pa., to serve as director of membership. The hiring followed two unsuccessful attempts to fill the executive director post vacated in October by Olivia “Libbi” Brown. She was hired in April 2021 to succeed Sherris Moreira, who had left to join OhanaLink Technologies and now serves as the city of Sharon’s director of downtown development.
The chamber had one candidate in mind in late 2022 who ended up moving out of the area when her husband got a job out of town, according to David Grande, chamber board president. The organization made an offer earlier this year to another candidate who chose to remain with her current employer.
“I believe things happen for a reason,” Grande reflects. “Let’s be realistic. A chamber director’s job is not an easy job. Pay is not always fantastic.”
Chamber officials decided to look at the situation differently and determined that the most important part of the chamber wasn’t the organizational part but the membership part, Grande says. They decided to find someone who could work with Quentin Hinkson, who handles chamber marketing, and focus on serving members. That left the chamber board to handle oversight and administrative functions.
The board reached out to Bombeck, a member of the chamber ambassadors program, for what the Sharpsville native describes as “a perfect fit” for him. His résumé includes a 20-year stint in sales with Pennsylvania chocolate giant Hershey Co. and more recently as a sales executive with Webb Winery in Hermitage.
“Everything we do is generated from talking with members,” Grande says.
Top among the concerns chamber members express is finding employees, a common concern among businesses across the country, and the chamber has a job board to help members find qualified workers, Bombeck says.
Receiving the biggest “bang for your buck” from their chamber membership is another concern for members.
“That’s where I come in, to remind them of all the things we offer,” Bombeck says.
Focus areas for the chamber include getting members to interact and network more through social and professional development events, according to Grande.
In May, the Shenango Valley chamber, in conjunction with other area chambers, hosted the 30 Under 40 Awards to recognize young professionals.
Over the past year, the chamber also has started doing a breakfast program, Business at Sunrise.
“Those meetings in the morning, you have 30 people talking about what they do to people who may or may not know what they do,” Grande says. “It’s just a way to do that on a regular basis to connect companies together.”
Among the initiatives the chamber is looking to revisit this year is a member-to-member discount program, he reports.
In addition to meeting with members, the intent is for Bombeck to connect with officials from the various Shenango Valley communities to see how the chamber can interact with their economic development departments.
“We try to engage with Penn-Northwest [Development Corp.] as well on the economic development and industrial side,” Bombeck says. “We want to be their eyes and ears for a segment that they don’t always hit, and vice versa.”
Later this year, the chamber plans to host a “business-type forum’ with the candidates for Mercer County commissioner, Grande says. This year, two of the three commissioners aren’t running for reelection. The goal is for business owners to discuss with the candidates what they think could be done to drive economic development or bring investment to the area.
The chamber will again host its annual meeting in November in conjunction with the Phoenix Awards, which the chamber previously held in the spring.
Combining the annual meeting and awards program allows the chamber to focus on events in spring or early summer “that we maybe didn’t spend a lot of time on,” Grande says.
After just over two months on the job, Bombeck says he is “having an absolute ball” in his new role.
“I’m starting to know what I don’t know. But I absolutely love the interaction with the members. I absolutely love the cold calling on people who are potential members,” he asserts.
“If the last couple of months is any indication, I think this would be a model that we’ll look to stay with. It’s going to be driven by what it is the membership wants, what we can accomplish,” Grande says. “We would like to think this is not a six-month experiment. Unless our operational situation or financial situation or our members dictate that we need to do something different, I think this is our path for the foreseeable future.”
Pictured at top: David Grande is president of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce. Jim Bombeck is director of membership.