Letter: Chamber Lost And Found

I am asking my friends, neighbors and business associates who live, work, learn and play in the western communities to help me in my “call to action” to revive what is now called the Central Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Indeed, the chamber, still called by many by its former name, the Palms West Chamber of Commerce, had served our region well for more than a quarter-century and was an important part of our business and personal lives.

I moved to the western communities in 1999, and the first thing I did as a business person was join this chamber. It was an organization constituted of local business and community leaders bound together to help each other succeed in business and to provide goods and services to the community while helping the western communities grow and become a major regional economic and social force.

I joined under the leadership of the hardworking and dedicated Executive Director Vivian Palmer, along with her small leadership team and a board of directors made up of local business leaders and lots of dedicated members and volunteers. The presidents were business and professional leaders such as Dennis Witkowski, Jess Santamaria, Joanna Boynton, Burt Smith, Silvia Garcia, Mike Sexton and John Spillane. Just think about such great community events like WestFest, SalsaFest, Taste of the West, monthly luncheons and mixers held at local venues designed to bring our communities together while simultaneously helping local businesses spread the word of what our region and our members have to offer.

We aggressively worked together to advocate for economic growth while preserving our unique way of life. Vivian Palmer left, but her legacy continued, which we can all appreciate. Jaene Miranda came aboard with new enthusiasm, ideas, events and growth. She did a great job leading our not-for-profit organization and left the chamber in excellent position to continue its quite remarkable pattern of growth.

Some personal thoughts cry out for an airing!

I feel that we grew too large and remote from our base in terms of numbers, diversity, geography and interests. Our small, highly effective group of paid employees has gone up and down. The number of members serving as volunteers and providing goods and services has varied sharply as well.

Now we have another CEO, Wayne Burns. He may have come in with good intentions, but our regional chamber of commerce is fast becoming unrecognizable.

Most of the old staff is gone; the chamber office does not have a warm, welcoming “feel” and is kept locked, even during business hours. Business-to-business and business-to-customer events are down. Staff is down, but payroll is up, and now members are asked to pay in order to serve on the board of directors, even more to serve as an executive board member.

Readers may remember that it is but a few years since the chamber’s new headquarters building opened in Loxahatchee Groves. There is already a rumbling about the sale of this very attractive, highly practical facility — with the chamber leasing space elsewhere. We must stop the possibility before it gets a start!

This is not the chamber I joined, comprised of local hardworking employees, members, boards of directors and officers. It now feels more like a faceless corporate entity under which one must buy his or her way on to the board of directors rather than working one’s way up with sweat equity and dedication.

Please help restore our people’s chamber before it is too late!

Keith Jordano, The Acreage