As the economy takes a toll on businesses, the Kissimmee Chamber launches a membership drive.

The Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce is launching a membership drive to help bring back old members and find new ones. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

KISSIMMEE – The recession and the collapse of the housing market have taken a toll on a lot of businesses, prompting them to cut costs, lay off workers, scale back services – or close their doors entirely.
These rocky economic times are also having an impact on an organization that’s designed to advocate for and service the local business community. So many members have dropped out of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce that the organization is holding a membership drive to boost sagging numbers in these rough economic times.
“The Chamber is losing members like a lot of other organizations,” said Marc Reicher, who serves on the Chamber’s board of directors. “That’s why we are doing a membership drive.”
The drive will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Chamber office at 1925 E. Irlo Bronson Memorial Drive in Kissimmee. From 1-4 p.m., the Chamber is asking volunteers to man the phones and call business owners, reaching out to lapsed members to encourage them to renew their membership.
“We are doing a dialing campaign, to let people know about all the things we can do for you,” said Reicher, who is also the senior vice president of operations for ChampionsGate Resort.
“Our goal is to get everyone on our team to have a personal contact where they can have these kinds of discussions,” Reicher said.
Osceola County was one of the fastest growing counties in the past decade, not just in Florida but nationally as well, as the county’s traditional base of tourism near the theme parks and ranching in the rural areas got a big boost from a residential housing construction boom, as communities like Poinciana, Buenaventura Lakes, Harmony and Bellalago brought scores of new homes to the county.
But the collapse of the housing market since 2008 has left Osceola’s economy in very rough shape, wiping out jobs in construction, real estate, home building and other fields related to the housing boom.
Osceola County commissioners have been trying to diversify the economy since the recession started, by luring in new businesses and in particular heath care firms in close proximity to Orange County’s medical village on Lake Nona, which is on the border of Osceola County.
In the past few years, though, the county’s unemployment rate has soared to double digits – 11.2 percent in July, up from 11.1 percent in June. That’s left plenty of local businesses struggling to survive at a time when consumers are reigning in their spending.
And that’s had an impact on the Chamber’s membership as well.
“There are quite a number of drops on the drop list,” said Gene Terrico, vice chairman of the Four Corners Area Council, which operates under the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber.
Reicher and Robin Hughes, who coordinates the Four Corners Area Council for the parent company, said businesses often let their membership drop for a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with money problems.
“They like the Chamber but they can’t afford it,” Reicher said, while Hughes added that some of the members have to set priorities in a weak economy.
“Do they pay their electric bill or re-join the Chamber,” she said.
With that in mind, the Chamber has decided to start reaching out to those lost members – and to contact potentially new ones as well, Hughes added.
“We’re starting now with our membership drive,” she said. “There are many good reasons to join.”
As Terrico noted, a yearly membership is just $315 for a small business owner with just a handful of employees.
“For $315, you get a lot of exposure,” he said.
But Reicher said businesses should keep in mind that if they join the Chamber, they benefit more if they get involved in Chamber events, which provide opportunities for networking and making new contacts.
“If you join and participate, you’re going to get a good value,” he said.
The Chamber is also hosting a Business After Hours 2011 Membership Campaign on Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Toho Square, 20 E. Darlington St., in Kissimmee.
Other upcoming Chamber events include the Taste of Four Corners celebration on Friday, Sept. 23 from 5-8 p.m. at Formosa Gardens Village on U.S. 192, the Osceola Golf Classic on Friday, Oct. 7 at the Palms Course at Shades of Green at Disney World, and Viva Osceola on Saturday, Oct. 8 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Valencia Community College’s Kissimmee campus.
To learn more about the Chamber and its membership drive, call 407-847-3174 or log on to www.Kissimmeechamber.com.

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