Citizens question Italy Chamber of Commerce

About a dozen Italy residents attended a meeting Thursday night to learn more about the Italy Chamber of Commerce.

Karen Mathiowetz said she drew up the articles of incorporation and new by-laws during the 1980s when she was actively involved with the Chamber. At that time, she said there were 40 to 50 members.

“The reason for the chamber,” she said, “is to promote Italy. We are the window for the town.”

Fees are $10 for individuals, $20 for families, $50 for businesses and $100 for vendors/large businesses. Membership is free for churches, Mathiowetz said.

“There is a lot to be done on the chamber. If you are going to do it go for the long haul or don’t do it at all.” She added, “I appreciate what you are trying to do but you need to stick to the rules and bylaws.”

Mathiowetz said one of the major events the Chamber hosted in recent year was the Italian Festival, which brought 15,000 people to Italy in one day. She said booths were located along Main Street and there was a carnival for the kids.

Changes cannot be made, she pointed out, without membership approval and membership fees cannot be changed without changing the articles of incorporation.

Gayle Johns, local business owner, asked where they could find the by-laws. Susan Delephimne, current president, said the by-laws are located at the chamber building.

Delephimne said she would prepare new membership forms with the by-laws attached. The applications may be picked up at Express Electronics, 117 W. Main Street. Delephimne said they would be available on Monday.

The chamber president said the chamber’s responsibility is to welcome businesses to town. Once they are here, she said the chamber is to welcome them and advertise for them, if needed. The chamber could also sponsor a meet and greet or host ribbon cuttings. The chamber can also host small town clinics and has sponsored two clinics in previous years. Another clinic for court clerks is scheduled in January, Delephimne added.

The main goal of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), she said, is to court businesses to town. Members of the EDC include Randy Boyd, Jake Escamilla, Mark Souder Sr., Tina Haight and Rodney Guthrie.

Delephimne said chamber meetings are normally held at noon although admitted that an actual meeting has not been held since November of 2007.

She said there are 17 or 18 chamber members with 11 board members. Current board members, Delephimne said, include Teresa Wyatt, secretary; Ken Scales; Delephimne, president; and David South, treasurer.

Delephimne added that a chamber member does not have to be a business owner.

The dues collected from members, Delephimne said, go toward ribbon cuttings and advertising.

Several people questioned when a chamber meeting could be scheduled. Delephimne said Sept. 26 was the soonest date available for a chamber meeting.

Johns said that if the group gets active the chamber could be active by this time next year.

Delephimne said the last Italian Festival started with 58 members and ended with seven.

Johns stressed that the group needs to forget negativity from the past. She said a positive attitude is essential, and pointed out that the chamber should explore every idea offered to the chamber and not considered any idea “stupid.”

“Keep it positive. Forget the past chamber of commerce.” Johns continued, “We want to see the town succeed. We can come up with new and fresh ideas.”

Clover Stiles said it might take a core group to do a lot of the legwork to get the chamber active. Nick Kinze, local business owner, added that if two or three people became inspired, it might inspire two or three more and so on.

Janet Campbell asked about a house on Popular Street that had reportedly been donated to the chamber. Discussion initially was to tear down the house and create a park. Delephimne said the chamber could not create the proposed park because it did not promote business.

Delephimne’s husband, Vic, said the house was a private matter between them and David Farmer, a nephew of the deceased property owner.

“If it’s not promoting local businesses or one coming in, it’s not a chamber function,” Delephimne said.

Mayor Frank Jackson said there are a couple of businesses looking at coming to Italy. He said the city lost the possibility of having a Waffle House located in Italy. He said the people in the community stopped some businesses from moving to Italy; one of those was a halfway house. He said someone with a grocery store chain came to town but said the community needed more rooftops.

“If we had a bustling downtown,” Jackson said, “no telling what could be done here.”

He said that, 10 years ago, the sales tax was $36,000-$37,000 per year. Now, he said, the sales tax is more than $200,000.

Kelly Ballard asked how the chamber could help bring businesses to the community but never received an answer.

Johns said Italy must be a desirable place to live. She said trash bags and boxes located in front of downtown residences are unsightly.

Delephimne reiterated that parades, an Easter egg hunt, movies after dark or a bingo night were not chamber activities. She added, “Those activities are not the focus of the chamber.” Instead, she suggested the local Lions Club would be an outlet to sponsor these types of events.

Delephimne’s husband said the chamber does raise money with a concession at the Italy Opry held once a month. “I just hope you guys can pull it together,” he added.