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Chamber members look back on a historic year and ahead to a fresh start

Jaymi Butler

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Members of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce gathered virtually Wednesday evening to reflect on the challenges and celebrate the triumphs of a year like none other.

The Chamber’s 122nd Annual Meeting, held at the Catalyst studios, featured a blend of live interviews and pre-recorded conversations featuring Chamber team members, business owners, elected officials, educators and community thought leaders. 

As he kicked off the meeting, the Chamber’s outgoing Board of Governor’s chair Ryan Griffin shared the moment when he knew 2020 would be a very different year.

“We were at the mayor’s Green Flag brunch to celebrate the Grand Prix at the Vinoy and I remember the mayor having to cancel it,” said Griffin, an attorney at Johnson Pope who also owns Mandarin Hide and Trophy Fish. “I looked over at [Chamber president and CEO] Chris Steinocher and right then I told him ‘it’s time for us to go to work.’ The Chamber as we knew it stopped at that point in time and we had to take action to help our members.”

While the Chamber’s typical focus is on helping its members grow and succeed, it quickly became apparent that 2020 would be all about helping businesses survive and providing guidance on how to navigate the turbulent waters ahead due to the pandemic. And that wasn’t all 2020 had in store for them. With the death of George Floyd leading to deeper conversations about systemic racism and an election season filled with political unrest and division, the community could have crumbled. Instead, it thrived.

“When they say that when the chips are down you can tell what a person’s character is what they’re made of, I will tell you our Chamber showed that more than ever,” Griffin said. “The Chamber, its board, its staff, our members and our partners truly came together. And it is through this collaboration that we accomplished some incredible things and we built a strategic foundation for many, many years to come.”

Those accomplishments were spotlighted during the meeting, with panel discussions featuring key players in initiatives such as the St. Pete Greenhouse, the Fighting Chance Fund, Leadership St. Pete, Grow Smarter and the Chamber’s own advocacy efforts. Priorities for the advocacy program in 2021 include increasing regional connectivity through bus rapid transit, keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete, promoting policies that support YIMBY (yes in my backyard) and supporting higher education. 

Additionally, Madeline McCarthy Anderson, the 2020 chair of Leadership St. Pete and the senior regional director of operations for TJM Properties, which operates two senior living facilities in Pinellas County, won the title of Chamber Member of the Year. Sri Sundaram, Dean of USF St Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business, was named the new Board of Governors chair. 

“I want to make two commitments to you,” Sundaram said in his first remarks in his new role. “One, we will always remain an advocate for you at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Two, as a community member, we want to do everything to continue to make this community a special place to live.”

The full 2021 Executive Committee includes Griffin, Tashika Griffith, Anne Pollack, David Vetter, Jason Spears, Sandra Braham, Wes Bryan and Jason Jensen. 

And while 2020’s challenges were the main focus of the meeting, several speakers including Mayor Rick Kriseman shared their predictions for post-pandemic life in 2021. While things may never be the same, they all agreed that the outlook for St. Pete is bright.

“I think St Petersburg is going to come through this pandemic stronger than so many other cities and communities around the country,” Kriseman said. “We’re not going to be digging out of a ditch. We’re going to hit the ground running.”

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