WESTFIELD – Dino Gravanis, president of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce said this week that the search for a new executive director to replace Kate Phelon, who retired in September, is on hold right now.
Gravanis, the general manager of the Springfield Country Club, said the chamber board of directors feels it’s best to continue to volunteer their time in leading the nonprofit business association versus spending money to hire someone right now. He said the chamber wants to “devote our resources back to the membership and help them maneuver through regulations” during the pandemic.
Chambers of commerce are voluntary partnerships of businesses and professionals working together to promote and protect the interests of the business community and improve the quality of life in a community.
This summer at a chamber-sponsored event at which U.S. Rep. Richard Neal spoke, former director Phelon commented on the federal CARES Ac, and noted that chambers of commerce as 501(c)(6) not-for-profits have been excluded from the Payroll Protection Program. She said there were representatives from three chambers at the luncheon who asked Neal to include them in the next bill.
Phelon also estimated that program revenue from cancelled events in 2020, including the March breakfast and events planned in June, was down $20,000 to $30,000.
Gravanis said the Westfield Chamber still doesn’t qualify for any grants for any type of payroll protection. “Most chambers are classified the same. We don’t get any of the benefits. Outside of our immediate staff, we’re all volunteers,” he said.
However, Gravanis said the board of directors is committed to continuing the mission of the Westfield Chamber. “We have no intention of merging with any other chambers. We feel Greater Westfield benefits most from having our own chamber,” he said.
Westfield did reach out to the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, who also put their executive director search on hold a year and a half ago for different reasons. “The model they shared with us will work for our chamber,” Gravanis said.
“For us right now, part of it is financial, and two, as we rethink our mission as a chamber, it might affect the job description and the kind of candidate we’re looking for,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gravanis said the chamber has been hosting virtual After 5 events, and this past Monday held its first virtual coffee social with Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. “Those are the types of events we will continue to do. Members and non-members are on the virtual calls as well,” he said.
Current virtual events include Virtual Coffee Hours on the first Monday of the month with Mayor Humason, scheduled on Zoom at 8 a.m. through June 2021; Morning Brews are held the fourth Thursday of the month at 9 a.m.; and the After 5 events are on the second Monday of the month at 5 p.m. These are events where members can talk to each other and make connections with the local business community, Gravanis said.
The chamber is also sponsoring a pre-taxation call in March. Gravanis said no one is sure if there will be further tax extensions, but there are currently deadlines for getting PPP filings in. He said a taxation attorney has volunteered his time for the call, as well as a member of the board who is a certified public accountant.
For more information or to register for these events, visit westfieldbiz.org or call 413-568-1618.
Elections for the board were held in November, but Gravanis said there are openings in subcommittees. He said the membership committee is constantly encouraging people attending virtual coffee hours and other calls to join. He said recently real estate and banking folks attending the meetings joined subcommittees, as well as a couple of representatives of marketing firms who joined the marketing committee.
“The board of directors as a whole has committed to volunteer their time and drive the chamber in a positive direction – and as things in our environment begin to change for the better, we’ll resume our search for an executive director. Ultimately, we just want to ensure the stability of the chamber,” Gravanis said.