Bethel Park Chamber of Commerce opening May 5
When it comes to promoting local business, big is not necessarily better, said Connie Ruhl, executive director of the newly organized Bethel Park Chamber of Commerce.
In 1994, the original Bethel Park chamber was dissolved and chapter members became part of the larger South Hills Chamber of Commerce.
“It was a time when all chambers thought that bigger meant better,” she said.
Ruhl, who was on the board of both the former Bethel Park organization as well as the larger South Hills organization, is one of the driving forces behind restarting the local chapter of the organization dedicated to promoting local business, as well as partnerships between businesses and community organizations.
The trend has now turned back to the more locally-centered chambers, Ruhl said.
“A lot of businesses were telling us, ‘We miss having our local chamber,’” she said. Having a smaller geographic area “helps you focus,” she added.
Partnering with Ruhl, and serving as the new chamber’s business relationship manager, is Diane Ford.
Ford, who worked with many facets of the South Hills Chamber of Commerce, said the trend of returning to more local chapters makes sense.
“There was no active participation (in the larger organization),” said Ford. “The events were too far away. Not a lot of business people want to leave (their business) for two and a half to three hours during a business day.”
Ford said organizers and businesses are anxious to be starting fresh with a brand new chapter. Many local businesses and community officials are already committed to the project and have volunteered to serve on the board and the advisory committee.
“They were ready,” said Ruhl.
According to Ruhl, there are more than 2,900 businesses in Bethel Park. When the local chamber dissolved, there were 429 members, which she said is an average number for a chamber. By contrast, the South Hills Chamber had only 217 member businesses.
“We are big enough to stand alone,” said Ford.
Both Ruhl and Ford mentioned businesses such as Bethel Bakery, Evey True Value Hardware and Virgili Beer Distributing, which have been in operation in the community for a very long time.
“We are looking to the older business owners to mentor the newer ones,” said Ford.
In addition, the chamber plans to offer seminars and workshops that will be helpful to all businesses, new and old, according to Ruhl. “A lot of business owners don’t have technical skills or don’t know how to implement a marketing plan,” she said.
Businesses can be as involved as they chose with the new chamber, and there is a sliding scale for membership, Ruhl said. All member businesses will have a voice in the organization and opportunities to participate in – as well as host – events.
Organizers are planning to create a business directory and website detailing member businesses. They are also creating a welcome package.
The motto for the newly formed chamber is “Unity in Community,” and organizers plan to have activities which will have the businesses, the community and the schools working together.
Ruhl, a long time member of the Bethel Park School Board, said she would like to see the businesses offer internships to local students.
Among the activities already on chamber organizers’ agenda is a “shop in your own back yard” campaign, and a leadership and development workshop sponsored by the National Football League.
The organization is also planning an annual Bethel Park Business Bash where awards will be given to people who are making a difference in the community.
The Bethel Park Chamber of Commerce office will be located at 2830 South Park Road in Bethel Park. It opens May 5.