Chambers Team Up

ST. MARYS — The collaboration and partnership between the St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce and the Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce is about to get stronger next year.

The upcoming retirement of current St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce Director Kelly Kill sparked a change in the chamber’s leadership structure for 2013. Under the plan, Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce Director Scott Frey agreed to a 12-month consultant relationship with the St. Marys chamber, and chamber board members hired Becky Macwhinney as the assistant chamber director in St. Marys effective Jan. 2. The yearlong agreement should help both chambers serve members while promoting the region to prospective businesses for economic growth.

“We started looking for a new director, and started the interview process,” Incoming Chamber Board President Anna Katterhenry told The Evening Leader, noting the chamber has recently been developing and implementing a strategic plan.

“During that time frame, Becky was a person we were looking to be a director and at the same time, Scott Frey had approached us as possibly helping us with this transition. We have some big shoes to fill and we wanted Scott to come in and help with Becky.”

Members of both chambers should not see any disruption in service or changes in operation as a result of the new agreement.

“It’s a big transition,” Katterhenry said. “We had to stop and refocus many times during this transition and Becky was very patient with us. I think we have our groundwork now on how we are going to move forward, and we have two dynamic individuals who are going to be our key people in the chamber.”

Frey, who has been director at the Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce for a little more than three years, welcomed the opportunity to work with the St. Marys chamber. Frey noted he routinely worked with Kill during his time in New Bremen.

“She taught me a lot about chamber work and helped me build my network,” Frey said of Kill.

“It just made sense for me to try and give back a little to St. Marys and the chamber and to offer my help. A lot of our efforts are collaborative and overlap so it just made sense for me to help out.”

Frey will maintain his office in New Bremen and Macwhinney will be the full-time person in the St. Marys office.

“They will both be the face of the St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce,” Katterhenry said. “Scott will be dividing his time.”

Frey stressed that members of the Golden Triangle will continue to get the service they have grown accustomed to by being chamber members.

“Nothing for me will change down there,” Frey said. “The ideal goal here is with her (Macwhinney) skill set, she can hit the ground running. She has a good network with her work at the Neil Armstrong Museum, she understands nonprofit management — she’s going to fit right in and go. That allows me to continue to spend time with what I am doing down at our chamber and still help out up here.”

Macwhinney previously served as the director of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta. She also was involved in the Agricultural and Industrial Heritage Center in Coldwater.  

“I am grateful for this type of transition,” Macwhinney said.

“Having worked with Kelly on many projects, I know how hard she worked and the time she put in and it’s a big job. For the opportunity for me to come in like this, it’s going to be a benefit for everyone involved.”

The newly minted relationship also should serve to help break down any invisible barriers that exist among the communities of St. Marys and those in the Golden Triangle.

“Folks don’t realize how much work we do together,” Frey said. “Kelly has been instrumental in my development as a chamber director ... There are several committees, boards of directors and projects we have served on side-by-side over the last three plus years ... The spirit of collaboration is very strong in the chamber world.”

Macwhinney, who is from St. Marys, said she is excited about getting back to work in St. Marys.

“Going forward, I want to build on the programs the community has established and Kelly has established,” Macwhinney said.

“SummerFest is a huge part of this community and there is a tradition established there, and working with Scott to come up with new programs and new ideas to promote the community and bring people in.”

Kill noted she will miss the people involved in the chamber when she retires next week.

“Networking is the biggest thing you do here,” Kill said. “I really have enjoyed all facets of it. The networking and the people I worked with are what I will most take away.”

Katterhenry noted the new partnership is just the latest step in the implementation of the chamber’s strategic plan — a process that has been years in the making. The plan includes putting a focus on maximizing members’ benefits as being chamber members, touting the region for economic growth as well as being active in the community.

“I want members to realize that as far as the day-to-day operations, it will be business as usual,” Katterhenry said. “More than that, I want them to realize we have developed a strategic plan and we do have a focus. We are here to promote our businesses and community. We want to open our door to networking. We are here to build this community and we want them to be a part of it ... We really just got this started and I will look toward (Frey and Macwhinney) to show great leadership in implementing our plan and getting our volunteers involved.”

The partnership also highlights one of the key words in the chamber’s official name.

“We have a wonderful community here — and it’s not just St. Marys,” Katterhenry said. “It’s the St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce — we’ve always stuck with putting the ‘Area’ in the name because we do truly believe in promoting the area because it helps everyone.”

An open house for Kill will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 21. The public is invited to attend.