Chamber changes name and focus to focus on business and economic development | News, Sports, Jobs
A rebranding for the East Lee County Chamber of Commerce has sparked a renaissance in what it has to offer the East Lee County community.
East Lee County Chamber of Commerce president and operations manager Mike Welch said a few years ago that the board asked him if he could save the chamber because he had been voted for its closure.
“What’s good is it’s a one-bedroom revival with the recognition that Lehigh Acres is not alone. We are working closely with our new Gateway area and also on the Alva State Road 80 area. Most of our concerns are now regional ”, he said.
Over the past two years, the chamber has changed its name from the Grand Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce to the East Lee County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber serves Lehigh Acres, Gateway, Alva, Buckingham, East Fort Myers and the communities of RSW Airport.
“We have changed the orientation of the chamber so that it focuses mainly on commercial and economic development”, said the Welsh.
The board has also diversified with such directors as Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, former Senator and current Collier County Commissioner Burt Saunders and Ruth Anglickis of Landex Resorts International.
Pendergrass said he joined the board two months ago because he saw an opportunity to learn more. He said he has always worked with the economic development office.
“It’s another asset for us to connect with the community and the new energy” Pendergrass said.
Gateway resident, he said there are lots of new businesses with the new Gateway High School and residential Daniels Parkway on State Road 82. The chamber provides a networking opportunity and tries to educate other businesses in the area, like the county is so large, said Pendergrass.
“Businesses don’t know what the county is doing” he said.
Additionally, they may not know how to market a small business as many are run by a husband and wife and may not have the assets to advertise. Pendergrass said it was about trying to have more of a footprint in the community and become more identified.
“Lehigh has such a large consumer and workforce base. We want them to use the businesses there, buy locally and participate locally ”, he said.
Other directors include former chairman Ed Moore of Red Sneakers Mobile Marketing; Secretary Nancy Williamson with Realty World C. Bagans 1st; Treasurer David Deetscreek of Robert Bowers Accounting, Inc; Michael Jacobs with LegalShield; Lenore Maffetore with Banque Synovus; Carolyn Peplow with Lehigh Acres Community Services and Michael Thompson with Sunrise Realty Network, Inc.
“The board of directors is diversifying to represent the East and has been instrumental in participating in economic development with the Lee County Economic Development Office,” said the Welsh.
With the transition, the number of members stabilized. Welsh said they’ve also attracted some of the region’s biggest companies, such as Lee Health, who just joined.
“Some of the larger utilities have joined. Much of this is because our region is the future of good retail and business growth along the State Road 82 corridor ”, he said.
When the curved ball of COVID-19 hit, the chamber, along with a partnership with the Lee County government, fully immersed itself in services with businesses asking for various federal assistance programs such as PPE and economic disaster loans.
“Many of our traders from the East, it’s new to them”, Welsh said, adding that for many, English is their second language. “We have been able to provide assistance in this area and down to the essentials. . . help organize the big food banks we’ve had in 18 months.
The small but mighty chamber has done a lot of work and continues to do so, as the effects of the pandemic have been uneven across the county.
The East Lee County Chamber of Commerce tries to hold quarterly meetings on specialist topics that business owners want to hear about.
For more information about the chamber, or to become a member, visit www.elccoc.org, or call Welsh at (239) 565-8450. He said individuals can fill out an application on the website or call them directly as it is very easy to reach.
The website generated over 1,000 visits per week. Welch said many people who visit the site come from the north in search of land and homes in the Gateway area.
“They come to the bedroom and do a lot of shopping”, he said, adding that they were looking for information regarding driver’s license changes, car registration.
Due to the traffic, Welch asked the two hospital systems to put screens in the lobby where they can find health care.
Welsh, who owns his own business development consulting firm in Fort Myers, which enables him to earn a living, has lived in the community of Lehigh Acres for 22 years.
“The future is here” he said. “It was only a matter of time before the forces for all kinds of development emerged. When I moved to Lehigh Acres there were 55,000 people. Today, they are over 130,000. Demographics have changed. It makes us a very diverse place compared to what we were before.